"In Xanadu Did Kubla Khan.."

This poem by Coleridge has always fascinated me…he (Coleridge) claimed that he got the inspiration for the poem in a dream. He was awakened, and forgot most of the story. Anyway, what’s YOURtake on what he was describing?
Was Coleridge addicted to opium? How much great poetry was written by people under the influence of narcotic drugs?
Finally, did Coleridge ever write a commentary on this poem?

It’s pretty well documented that Coleridge was hooked on opium.

Obviously, Coleridge was describing a real place. Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge found it, remember?

(what do you mean Donald Duck isn’t real?)

I’d cite the comic, but I only know the story’s title in Danish. Story and illustration by Carl Barks, though.

Well, the definiton of “great” poetry is horribly subjective. Do you mean the accepted literary canon or what is widely regarded as “great” works by poets who subsequently become the “greats”?

For instance, would you consider Allen Ginsberg to write great poetry?
In Ginsberg’s book of poems Kaddish, there is a series of poems, such as “LSD”, “Mescaline”, “Laughin Gas”, etc., that are just his reactions to taking the various drugs in the title: what he sees, what he thinks, what he feels.
While those poems aren’t generally held up as perfect examples of the Ginsbergian poetry style, the poem “Kaddish” is one which I would regard as a great work of poetry that was written while under the influence .
That’s the only example I have off the top of my head.


Not just opium, either, but laudnium. Nothing like opium mixed with alcohol to give your day a kick-start!

IIRC He was writing it down when he was interrupted by a man from Porlock and afterwards couldn’t remember the rest.


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately dome decree
He climbed upon the railroad track
The train he could not see.

Ooey Kubla.

Where’s the pleasure in that?


Kubla Khan?..I always thought it was Shaka Khan


Stevie Smith wrote a wonderful poem saying, essentially, that Coleridge hadn’t had any idea what to do next, so he blamed some poor guy who just happened to show up at the wrong time.

I can’t remember who wrote it but I once read a short story where a guy used a time machine to go back in time to stop the ‘man from Porlock’ so Coleridge could get the rest down on paper.

Of course, he grew impatient when the man from Porlock failed to show and interrupted Coleridge himself.

That space-time continuum. It’s a right bastard, it is.

And, in Douglas Adams’s “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”, Gently has to become the man from Porlock to save the world.

You’re probably thinking of Return to Xanadu, written and drawn by Don Rosa. It was a sequal of sorts to Carl Barks’ Tralla La (I think that was the title), and showed that Tralla La was, in fact, the Xanadu described by Coleridge. Most (or maybe all) of the poem was quoted in Return to Xanadu.

Best Adams work. I wish the little weasel didn’t have to go off and die on us…

Okay, but how does Olivia Newton-John fit into all this?

::wanders off, strains of ELO swirling about his head::

In college, I remember reading a serious critic who said that Coleridge was well known for not finishing works, and that he doubted that there ever was an interruption to be blamed.

He could have finished it later, you know. Even famous poets don’t really work solely from inspiration.

I actually like it better the way he wrote it; Coleridge puts himself and the interrupter (cue ominious music) in the poem as characters. I’m always endeared to authors who do that for some reason. So just saying “that bastard came in and ruined the poem” and leaving it at that is probably better than than trying to go back, remember what he was thinking/feeling/hallucinating, and working from there.

No silly, Chaka Khan is an R&B singer from the 80’s.

This was long before that. It originally went:

Obla Dee Obla Da Kubla Khan… BRA!!
Lalalala Kubla Khan

“Kubla Khan?..I always thought it was Shaka Khan”

I feel for you.