Words evoking vivid, faithful images. The perfection of metres, rhymes and the intellectual effort it all represents. A person in a verse. A life in a haiku. A world in a stanza. I love poetry as much as I love prose. And this poem by Coleridge, this fragment portrays the essence of Romanticism. I have already read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and found it awe-inspiring. So I had a vague idea of the artistic force I was going to encounter with.
The Preface of this poem explains the background of the creative process and publication, including a famous anecdote that would later become a concept by itself, a fair allusion to certain aspects of life that inevitably interrupts the writer's creativity. It all started with a dream. By 1797 the poem was “completed” and published in 1816. Coleridge states that, one night, after reading about Xanadu (the palace of Kublai Khan, a Mongol ruler and Emperor of China) and giving himself over to the influence of opium, he had a dream. A wild, vivid dream. When he woke up, he started to write a poem until he was apparently interrupted by a person on business from Porlock. And then, he couldn't remember much of the dream and therefore couldn't finish what he has planned. There is no concluding evidence but it does teach us a remarkable lesson. If you feel inspired and begin to write in a frenzy, and all of the sudden someone knocks on your door, don't open it. Unless it is the fire department. Otherwise, do not open the door. Lock it. Close your window. And keep writing.
"Kubla Khan" starts with a depiction of Xanadu. An idea of perfection conveyed through the circular shapes that Coleridge describes. He does so using different tones relating to the idea of opposites. Light and darkness. Nature and human creativity. A lifeless ocean, a mighty fountain. Visions of contradictory images, mythological references, exquisite symbolism; the symphony of a woman. The taste of her song, a song with the power of building domes in the air.
Below, you will find a passage (in Spanish and English) of an essay by the erudite pen of Jorge Luis Borges, concerning Coleridge and his poem.
There was no other way. I had to end these rambling thoughts on Coleridge with Borges in my mind.
Un emperador mogol, en el siglo XIII, sueña un palacio y lo edifica conforme a la visión; en el siglo XVIII, un poeta inglés que no pudo saber que esa fábrica se derivó de un sueño, sueña un poema sobre el palacio. (…)
En 1961, el P. Gerbillon, de la Compañía de Jesús, comprobó que del palacio de Kublai Khan sólo quedaban ruinas; del poema nos consta que apenas se rescataron cincuenta versos. Tales hechos permiten conjeturar que la serie de sueños y de trabajos no ha tocado a su fin. Al primer soñador fue deparada en la noche la visíon del palacio y lo construyó; al segundo, que no supo del sueño del anterior, el poema sobre el palacio. Si no marra el esquema, algún lector de Kubla Khan soñará, en una noche de la que nos separan los siglos, una mármol o una música. Ese hombre no sabrá que otro dos soñaron, quizá la serie de los sueños no tenga fin, quizá la clave esté en el último.
A thirteenth-century Mongolian emperor dreams a palace and then builds it according to his dream; an eighteenth-century English poet (who could not have known that the structure was derived from a dream) dreams a poem about the palace...
In 1691 Father Gerbillon of the Society of Jesus confirmed that ruins were all that was left of the palace of Kubla Khan; we know that scarcely fifty lines of the poem were salvaged. Those facts give rise to the conjecture that the series of dreams and labors has not yet ended. The first dreamer was given the vision of the palace and he built it; the second, who did not know of the other’s dream, was given the poem about the palace. If the plan does not fail, some reader of “Kubla Khan” will dream, on s night centuries removed from us, of marble or of music. This man will not know that two others also dreamed. Perhaps the series of dreams has no end, or perhaps the last one who dreams will have the key.