A PLEA­SURE DOME

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Twice de­nied his Japan con­quest by fickle winds, you’d have to feel for poor Kubla. But he did achieve some­thing ap­proach­ing ev­er­last­ing fame thanks to an (un­fin­ished) poem by 19th cen­tury writer Sa­muel Tay­lor Co­leridge. It’s a fairly ob­scure poem – Co­leridge ad­mit­ted it was writ­ten dur­ing an opi­u­min­duced vi­sion – but it does sug­gest that Kubla, as a failed con­queror, nursed his wounded pride by build­ing him­self a se­ri­ously flash bach in Xanadu. Xanadu was China’s orig­i­nal cap­i­tal, but af­ter he’d con­quered the coun­try, Kubla moved the cap­i­tal to Dadu, in present-day Beijing. Here are the first two stan­zas of the poem (it goes on for quite a bit longer...)

Kubla Kahn Sa­muel Tay­lor Co­leridge, 1772 – 1834

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately plea­sure dome de­cree: Where Alph, the sa­cred river, ran Through cav­erns mea­sure­less to man Down to a sun­less sea.

So twice five miles of fer­tile ground With walls and tow­ers were gir­dled round: And there were gar­dens bright with sin­u­ous rills, Where blos­somed many an in­cense-bear­ing tree; And here were forests an­cient as the hills, En­fold­ing sunny spots of green­ery.

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