“A damsel with a dulcimer in a vision once I saw”

A reflection on reverie & writing

Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
4 min readFeb 10, 2022


Xanadu (here spelled Xandu) on a map of Asia made by Sanson d’Abbeville, geographer of King Louis XIV, dated 1650.

One night in October, 1797, the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke from an opium-influenced dream. Before he nodded off, he’d been reading a description of Shangdu — aka Xanadu — a city built by Mongol Emporer Kubla Khan as the his summer residence. Coleridge’s dream was so vivid that he immediately set quill to parchment to transform his inspiration into a poem.

Entitled, “Kubla Khan,” it’s only 54 lines long. Dense, but delightful, it is deservedly famous. Read it here.

The first five lines are among the most well-known in English-language poetry:

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.

From there, he describes the landscape and its wonders, including a chasm, a fountain, and the river — “five miles meandering with a mazy motion” — that flows to the sea. The imagery is fantastic, the language sensational, and the impression otherwordly, yet lucid.

The tension builds, and we are warned of imminent disaster:

And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!