Kublai Khan

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Kublai Khan (1215-1294) was a famous Mongol military leader. Kublai Khan founded the Yuan dynasty. He was the Emperor when Marco Polo made his journey to China. Kublai Khan promoted Buddhism and ended mandatory education in the teachings of Confucius. He allowed freedom of religion.

Warning: some biographical discussion of drug use follows. Parents should be advised.


Kubla Khan (a variant spelling) is also the title and subject of a famous lyric poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which opens:

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.

The poem begins in iambic tetrameter, before "escalating" to iambic pentameter. Coleridge describes the "Dome of Pleasure" in iambic pentameter for some time, before the poem resumes in tetrameter, following this stanza:

The shadow of the dome of pleasure

Floated midway on the waves
Where was heard the mingled measure
Of the fountains and the caves.

Thereafter the poem discusses the author's attempts to re-live the experience of the pleasure dome:

I would build that dome in air.

That sunny dome! Those caves of ice!
And all who heard would see them there
And all would cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes! His floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice
And close your eyes in holy dread
For he on honeydew hath fed
And drunk the milk of paradise.

The poem cuts thus off abruptly in a tone of yearning frustration. Poetic analysts suggest that the poem is an analogue to the creative process; the author struggles to get into the writer's ideal writing state, enters it, succeeds for a time, and ultimately fails, only to repeat the process again, hoping to achieve the strange and hypnotic beauty that defines true creativity (the "Pleasure Dome"). At the end, the author yearns to become a mythological, supreme creator... but can do no more than yearn.

Alternate Explanation

Coleridge, who often used opium,[1] said that he conceived of the poem and a good deal of its structure in an opium dream. When he awoke, he realized that he had composed some 500+ lines of poetry! He rushed to write it down, but claims that, while he was writing it, he was interrupted by "a person on business from Porlock." When he got back to his work, he was horrified to find that all the beautiful lines he had in his head were now completely forgotten. This "explanation" is Coleridge's attempt of giving a mythical explanation to the tetrameter-pentameter-tetrameter structure of the poem: the pentameter section (being more complicated) was inspired by his opium dream, while the sections in tetrameter were his attempts to frame and recall the dream.

This explanation ought to be disfavored, as it is likely Coleridge's attempt to ironically, cynically, and controversially link creativity with drug abuse. Coleridge was renowned for his sardonic wit, and this is but one more example.


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