In quest for the romantic imagination (II): all roads lead to Xanadu.
Both auroras (the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis) are thus said by Symmes to have irradiating sources in the polar regions. The mystery regarding how the auroras are generated keeps on exerting a fascinating power on scientists and philosophers alike even at the present time. Symmes was among those who attempted a scientifically verifiable and logical answer. The mystery, however, remains, and the poles with their mysterious nature entered many systems of representation, especially the symbolism of alchemy. In this sense, Jung makes reference to a crucial passage in the Musaeum hermeticum (1678) as a solution for interpreting a dream which consisted in the following: "Under the guidance of the unknown woman the dreamer has to discover the Pole at the risk of his life" The passage in question from the alchemical treatise reads as follows:
In polo est cor Mercurii, qui verus est Ignis, in quo requies est Domini sui, navigans per mare hoc magnum, ad utramque pertingat Indiam, cursum dirigat per aspectum Astri Septentrionalis, quod faciet tibi apparere Magnes noster. (Introitus apertus ad occlusum regis palatium / An open entrance to the closed palace of the king, chap. 4, De magnete sophorum / Of the magnet of the sages, Musaeus hermeticum, 1678: 655)
In the Pole is the heart of Mercurius, who is the true Fire, wherein is the repose [or rest/leisure] of its Master, navigating through this great sea, that it may arrive at both the Indies, and set its course by the aspect of the North Star, which our Magnet will manifest. (cf. Waite 1893ii: 167)
Jung (1971: 430-431) explained psychologically that the Pole is "the point round which everything turns"--hence it is "another symbol of the self." Thus, the symbol was adopted in alchemy, Mercurius being the "world-soul" (anima mundi, mahatma = the collective unconscious, whose center is the self), with the Pole being its "heart." The sea is therefore the symbol of the unconscious, across which the hero voyages on his initiational exploration towards the polar regions (the self, reached when the process of individuation is completed).
The snow-white unicorn, the lion and the white dove are said by Jung to be symbols of Mercurius. Wilson significantly comments in this context as follows:
[According to Jung, the caduceus or snake-entwined staff reveals that the "heart of Mercurius" is the Pole, which is] present in all three stages of the alchemical work: boiling black (nigredo), congealed white (albedo), and distilled red (rubedo); matter as chaos, material organized by spirit, matter turned divine elixir; lead, crystal, gold; body, psyche, and spirit. As the principle of transmutation, Mercury is also the psychopompus who guides men, Jung continues, "on the perilous voyage over the sea of the world" to the "Deus absconditus (hidden God) who dwells at the North Pole and reveals himself through magnetism." (Wilson 2003: 166)
The North Pole, which for Blake signified the Imagination (lastly identified as Jesus Christ), then is in alchemy the dwelling place of the deus absconditus that Pascal talked about as being the only true God. The magnetism attributed to the divine presence, of course, reminds us of Coleridge's main feature of the imagination as esemplastic power: magical synthesis and unification.
The question, however, remains: why should a voyage to the North Pole, or South Pole for that matter, signify a journey of initiation, if there was nothing to be found at the poles?
If, on the other hand, Symmes and Halley were right, and the poles were indeed an end of the journey, but also a beginning of another kind of journey, namely to another, internal, world, then truly there is justification in seeing a voyage to the poles as a quest for discovery of realms beyond the external world: the regions of inner earth, which could symbolically become associated with the image of the Self as a hidden reality (just as in Symmes's theory, the internal world is hidden from the view of the "Externals"). In Blake's case, then, there would be justification in seeing the North Pole as a symbol of the "Imagination," because, if that region is the portal (the "valves of gold," as Blake put it) to the internal world, then the pole is the gate leading to an entire new realm indeed, which is "pure" imagination from the perspective of the "Externals." Conversely, the South Pole could justifiably be seen as a symbol of Reason, if that region were a portal to an internal world, in Symmes's acceptation, where the ruling principle of society would be strict rationality (as we could see, indeed in Symzonia the ruling principle is a kind of "natural" reason). It may be that Blake had precisely this kind of reality in mind as can be derived from the writings of Halley, Kircher and Symmes surveyed above. The story of Symzonia seen from this perspective becomes not only intelligible, but may prove to be a precious key of interpretation for much cryptic material in the works of romantic writers like William Blake, S. T. Coleridge, Mary Shelley, E. A. Poe, Herman Melville.
IV. Byron's concept of imagination
On the other hand, Babbitt (1968: 18) mentioned Lord Byron as a poet who embraced a cathartic view of art, with the imagination being conceived of as simultaneously a channel through which the inner fire of life is liberated into the outside phenomenal world and simultaneously that inner fire itself. In a letter to Miss Milbanke, dated 10 November 1813, Byron wrote, referring to the imagination and madness in poets, the following:
I by no means rank poetry or poets high in the scale of intellect. This may look like affectation, but it is my real opinion. [Poetry] is the lava of the imagination whose eruption prevents an earthquake. They say poets never or rarely go mad. Cowper and Collins are instances to the contrary (but Cowper was no poet). It is, however, to be remarked that they rarely do, but are generally so near it that I cannot help thinking rhyme is so far useful in anticipating and preventing the disorder. I prefer the talents of action--of war, or the senate, or even of science, -to all the speculations of those mere dreamers of another existence (I don't mean religiously but fancifully) and spectators of this apathy. (Byron 1904iii: 405)
The "earthquake" metaphor refers consequently to the passions of man and to the madness that could emerge when the passions are in excess and not liberated. Goode (1923: 86) is right to emphasize that this doctrine of the imagination is romantic, and not at all neoclassical:
Byron's conception of poetry comprehends the traditional idea of the divine afflatus, although he identifies the inspired impulse with but some normal human instincts in excess. Whatever may have been his conscious sympathies, and they have been exaggerated as classical, in this notion he is, at every point in his career, romantic to an extreme.
To illustrate his view, Goode (1923: 86-87) quotes a few fragments from Byron's letters and journals, which point out that poetry is the result of something like an abrupt manic fit, a (possibly wrong) passion that cannot be explained rationally, being an energy erupting with much pain (not with pleasure) like a volcano, which, if stopped in the act of eruption, can cause the fit to turn into mental breakdown ("madness")--the volcano (the psyche) blowing to smithereens, with disastrous consequences. What is to be especially noted here is that poetic creation in Byron's thought resembles rather a woman's very painful throes of childbirth (hence its cathartic effect that Babbitt mentioned earlier), and not at all Keats's light and sprightly manic overflow, which might well be mistaken for a wilfully controlled episode of gamma power activation (see infra).
What is more, the poetic creation proper is to Byron a kind of "somnambulism," whose ethereal language is inaccessible to him in a normal waking state--this view suggests that the creative process has a kind of hypnotic dimension:
Now, are not the passions the food and fuel of poesy? (Letter to John Murray, dated 17 July 1820; Byron 1904v: 55)
I can never get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion, and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. (Letter to Thomas Moore, dated 5 July 1821; Byron 1904v: 318)
"Licentiousness!"--there is more real mischief and sapping licentiousness in a single French prose novel, in a Moravian hymn, or a German comedy, than in all the actual poetry that ever was penned or poured forth, since the rhapsodies of Orpheus. The sentimental anatomy of Rousseau and Mad[am]e de S[tael]. are far more formidable than any quantity of verse. They are so, because they sap the principles, by reasoning upon the passions; whereas poetry is in itself passion, and does not systematize. It assails, but does not argue; it may be wrong, but it does not assume pretensions to Optimism. (A second letter to John Murray, Esq., on the Rev. W. L. Bowles's strictures on the life and writings of Pope, published in 1835; Byron 1904v: 582)
I feel exactly as you do about our "art," but it comes over me in a kind of rage every now and then, like * * * *, and then, if I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad. As to that regular, uninterrupted love of writing, which you describe in your friend, I do not understand it. I feel it as a torture, which I must get rid of, but never as a pleasure. On the contrary, I think composition a great pain. (Letter to Thomas Moore, dated 2 January 1821; Byron 1904v: 214-215)
As for poesy, mine is the dream of my sleeping Passions; when they are awake, I cannot speak their language, only in their Somnambulism, and just now they are not dormant. (Letter to John Murray, dated 2 January 1817; Byron 1904iv: 43)
In this context, Babbitt (1919: 88) reminded us of Anatole France's view of Villiers de l'Isle Adam's life as a somnambulistic, hypnotic dreamy journey whereby physical common and paltry reality (the paupers' quarters of cities) was transmuted into something unreal, wonderful, golden, dazzling (therefore, something very similar to the core architecture of an opium dream vision; see infra):
For thirty years Villers wandered around in cafes at night, fading away like a shadow at the first glimmer of dawn... His poverty, the frightful poverty of cities, had so put its stamp on him and fashioned him so thoroughly that he resembled those vagabonds, who, dressed in black, sleep on park benches. He had the livid complexion with red blotches, the glassy eye, the bowed back of the poor; and yet I am not sure we should call him unhappy, for he lived in a perpetual dream and that dream was radiantly golden... His dull eyes contemplated within himself dazzling spectacles. He passed through the world like a somnambulist seeing nothing of what we see and seeing things that it is not given us to behold. Out of the commonplace spectacle of life he succeeded in creating an ever fresh ecstasy. On those ignoble cafe tables in the midst of the odor of beer and tobacco, he poured forth floods of purple and gold. (Anatole France; apud Babbitt 1919: 88-89)
An unlimited imagination such as this made possible, it would seem, the birth of Coleridge's dream of Xanadu, under the intoxicating fumes of opium that unbarred the access to that otherworldly language which Byron made reference to when speaking of the two realms of reality that he became aware of as truly existing: the common normal reality of wakeful states, and the unfathomable somnambulistic altered reality of oneiric states, in which the language of the ancient gods that a Keats had had access to in Hyperion is unbarred.
V. The story of Xanadu: imagination unbound
Indeed such (opium-triggered) transmutation of states, language levels and dimensions--from common-real to dreamy-surreal--is the basis of Coleridge's idea of poetic creation: his opium-induced vision of Xanadu reminds us of Villiers de l'Isle Adam's imagination as a power to transmute the poverty of cities into the "ever fresh ecstasy" of a spectacular life enhanced by continued intoxication of the senses, whereby the common becomes miraculous. In this context, Babbitt (1968: 99) summarizes Lowes' analysis of the creative process as consisting of three stages:
1) The "conscious stage": focusing on a certain field, with accumulation of information concerning it.
2) The stage of "unconscious cerebration": the material accumulated through focusing one's mind on a certain field "sinks" into the "subliminal self," forming "new and unexpected associations." In this sense, Coleridge is said by Lowes to have written Kubla Khan and The Ancient Mariner as a result of his many readings in the field of travel literature, the material thus accumulated being "magically modified" in the "deep well of unconscious cerebration." However, Lowes does not specify whether this "magic" was itself opium-induced in both cases, of Kubla Khan and The Ancient Mariner: Abrams (1971a) will clarify this matter definitively (see infra).
3) The final "conscious stage": the "shaping spirit of imagination" finishes the work. In this sense, according to Lowes the creation of Kubla Khan did not benefit from this "shaping spirit," while The Ancient Mariner did. The creation of the poem Kubla Khan stopped at the second stage, being incomplete.
In this regard, according to Babbitt (1968: 114, 115, n. 1), Coleridge's main influence is from German culture, which had for a long time advocated the importance of "the things behind the veil" (Pater's formula). In fact, German romanticism in Novalis's version (but not restricted to his creation only) evolved precisely in the direction of lifting the veil (of mystery). In Coleridge's case, this philosophical orientation points to his interest in the "crepuscular regions" of being, the elusive, off-center, unconscious, spontaneous phenomena, the abnormal. Coleridge thus came to be associated with somnambulistic-hypnotic creativity (see Charpentier 1929, 1970), much like Byron (see supra). In modern terms, Coleridge is especially relevant in researching the role of the brain regions where the unconscious cerebration is believed to take place during Eureka-like creative processes.
Gamma power: the key to imagination
According to Andreasen (2006: 164) the regions of unconscious cerebration / mentation are located in the associative cortex (the frontal, temporal, parietal association regions). Extraordinary creativity has been found to be triggered when the associative cortices (the seat of the unconscious mind) are sharply activated, thus generating what man feels as intuition. The associative cortices are believed by Andreasen to be "the reservoir of creativity," being the main location whence "gamma synchrony" proceeds, which is capable of being produced by meditative states (states of deeper sustained concentration). According to Andreasen (2006: 163-164), the more one is trained in the practice of meditation (sustained concentration), the greater one's "gamma power" becomes, i.e. the faculty able to maintain the gamma brain waves (the domain of frequency: 30-80 Hz) highly activated even in states where one is not practicing meditation. Consequently, harmonic coherence in the brain is a matter of meditative discipline (Babbitt was therefore right in asking for some measure of mental discipline in any form of creativity), whereby one is able to initiate and maintain communication between "neuronal groups" that act like Coleridge's esemplastic imagination: i.e. towards focusing, unifying, integrating "complex information" with a view to uncover its significance, or in order to work out a solution. [For details on brain waves and their function in creativity, see at least Stroe 2014b].
On "gamma power" and "gamma synchrony," Buzsaki (2006) summarized the most important information available. He comments on his first encounter with gamma power measurements operated on yogis as follows:
The first time I saw a presentation on the scalp EEG of yogis at the World Congress of EEG in Amsterdam in 1977, I thought the recordings were from patients with generalized spike-and-wave epilepsy because of the large-amplitude, generalized pattern in some yogis. A recent study (Lutz et al, 2004) emphasizes the enhanced gamma power during meditation, perhaps reflecting the increased neuronal computation associated with the process of meditation. (Buzsaki 2006: 215, n. 19)
Buzsaki thus speculates that meditation practices like yoga and zen lead to an intensification of neuronal computational activity, since their purpose is to "fully engage the brain without sensory stimulation." However, what is implied here is that Buzsaki had no way of knowing that the gamma power was manifest in a healthy or an ill patient: he thought he was dealing with an epileptic. Also, he mentions in this context measurements of gamma power on people suffering precisely from epilepsy:
Experiments in epileptic patients, equipped with large numbers of subdural electrodes for diagnostic purposes, showed that gamma power increased linearly with memory load at multiple, distributed sites, especially above the prefrontal cortex. The power remained at the elevated level during the retention period but fell back quickly to baseline level after the working memory information was no longer needed. Overall, these observations support the more general idea that gamma oscillations are used in the brain for temporally segmenting representations of different items. [The idea that gamma oscillations could be used to hold sequentially encoded items in working memory comes from Lisman and Idiart (1995)]. (Buzsaki 2006: 245, also n. 36)
Extremely significant for our discussion of the romantic imagination, which is par excellence a cognitive faculty, are the following elements emphasized by Buzsaki relative to gamma power:
Significant difference in gamma power was reported between induced patterns by words [endowed with meaning] versus pseudowords [having no real meaning] in both visual and auditory tasks. A common feature of all these experiments is that the induced gamma activity emerges at a variable latency between 150 and 300 milliseconds after stimulus onset, approximately at the time when stimuli acquire meaning. [...] Altogether, the late occurrence of context-dependent increase of gamma activity over multiple cortical areas is usually interpreted in favor of the hypothesis that the selforganized gamma oscillation reflects a top-down cognitive process. / The above observations also indicate that a coherent perception of an object involves synchronization of large cortical areas. [...] A particular striking correlation between working memory and gamma oscillation was observed by subdural grid recordings. Working memory is a hypothetical mechanism that enables us keep stimuli "in mind" after they are no longer available. The amount of information to be held at any given time is referred to as memory load, for example, the number of "nonsense" syllables to be stored when trying to repeat a toast salutation in a foreign language. The longer the string of the syllables, the larger the memory load. (Buzsaki 2006: 244-245; see note 34 for the rich literature on this topic, developed especially from the 1990s)
On the question of gamma power, Buzsaki concludes that it is mainly associated with an increase of the power of concentration (the cognitive faculty):
Increased gamma power is often interpreted as a physiological correlate of attention [...]. An implicit implication of these findings is that drugs that increase theta and gamma power should improve encoding of memories. (Buzsaki 2006: 274, n. 20)
Thus, gamma power, so essential in extraordinary creativity, is strongly correlated with: 1) (the need for) the emergence of meaning; 2) (the need for) memory activation; 3) (the need for) memory storage; 4) (the need for) an increase of attention (i.e. of the power of concentration). These crucial elements seem to be universal ingredients in the process of triggering the gamma power, and so in triggering extraordinary creativity. Thus, it is safe to say in our context that if Coleridge had had an advanced meditative training (as the great Romanian romantic poet Mihai Eminescu may have had), he might have salvaged the lost information of the poem he claimed to have composed, because with such training he would have possessed more gamma power, which would have meant more brain coherence, more capacity for memory activation and memory storage, more power to process meaning and more power of concentration--as it is, we are left only with the "ruin" of a poem that might have been one of the greatest in English and world literature.
Additionally, Coleridge's opium addiction most probably shattered any of his hopes to have direct control over his potential gamma power; that power--when he lost Kubla Khan--he could not activate and maintain by conscious control (a yogi probably would have been able to do that even despite the influence of the drug, given the fact that the human mind can be, in certain ways and conditions, much stronger than matter). Instead, Coleridge, for reasons that we will get into in more detail a little later (see infra The price of the milk of paradise), resorted to opium in order to tap that miraculous reservoir of wondrous psychic energy that led him straight to Xanadu.
The road to Xanadu is thus more often than not quite difficult, implying a price to be paid. Babbitt (1968: 125) seems to point out that in the case of most romantics (and especially of Coleridge) this price was the "sacrifice of human substance to the Moloch of spontaneity"--this state of affairs is according to Babbitt even more evident in the French surrealists, associated as they are with the English and American writers, who "abandoned themselves to the 'stream of consciousness,'" i.e. to an automatic, unconscious, hypnotic, somnambulistic kind of writing. To capture and hold, even for a short while, this "Moloch of spontaneity" was for poets like Coleridge a "triumph of romantic art" (Babbitt 1919: 181-182), even if the price for such capture was the use of opium which temporarily induced the emergence of a fairy-like dream, wherein the mind expressed itself freely, with no rational restraints.
In this sense, Babbitt points out relevantly that Friedrich Schlegel, on speaking about the unsuccess of his play Alarcos, complained as follows:
I should have taken more opium when I wrote it. (apud Babbitt 1919: 182)
Friedrich Schlegel in this instance, therefore, seems to have been more concerned with the triumph of his art (or lack thereof), rather than with the fact that more opium ingestion would have implied much higher risks concerning his physical and mental health.
In this context, Kubla Khan is indeed an illustration of opiuminduced spontaneous-automatic, hypnotic writing, or of what Coleridge called the "streamy nature of association" in revery, because in this poem there is no "technical shaping" of the kind found in The rime of the Ancient Mariner (cf. Babbitt 1968: 126). John Clare, the "Wordsworthian shadow" (as Bloom called the peasant poet), was most dedicated to automatic writing, his most natural creative state being the one in which he was able to generate "breathing words," in an attempt to transfer pure life into poetry. That Coleridge tried the same in Kubla Khan is probably the case, but we may never know for sure.
What, however, is remarkable, is that by creating a poem about Xanadu, regardless how incomplete and in a state of ruin the final creation, Coleridge brought to public light not only a very old myth, but a very old name, over which several deep strata of history had been set. The name he would have read in the 1614 edition (the second) of Purchas his pilgrimage would have been Xaindu. Here is the text he would have found in the 1614 edition:
In Xaindu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace; encompassing sixteene miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull Streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be removed from place to place. Here he doth abide in the moneths of Iune, Iuly, and August, on the eight and twentieth day wherof, he departeth thence to another place to do sacrifice on this manner: He hath a Heard or Drove of Horses and Mares, about ten thousand, as white as snow; of the milke whereof none may taste, except he be of the bloud of Gingis Can. Yea, the Tartars doe these beasts great reverence, nor dare any crosse their way, or goe before them. According to the direction of his Astrologers or Magicians, he on the eight and twentieth of August aforesaid, spendeth and poureth forth with his owne handes the milke of these Mares in the ayre, and on the earth, to give drinke to the spirits and Idols which they worship, that they may preserve the men, women, beasts, birds, corne, and other things growing on the earth. / These Astrologers, or Necromancers, are in their Art marvellous. When the skie is cloudie and threatneth raine, they will ascend the roofe of the Pallace of the Grand Can, and cause the raine and tempests to fall round about, without touching the said Pallace. These which thus doe are called Tebeth, and Chesmir; two sorts of Idolaters, which delude the people with opinion of their sanctitie, imputing these workes to their dissembled holinesse: and for this cause they goe in filthy and beastly manner, not caring who seeth them, with dirt on their faces, never washing nor combing themselves. [...] (The fourth Booke, Chap. 13: Asia; Purchas 1614: 415)
According to Lowes (1978: 328), in the later edition of 1617 (a copy of which Wordsworth possessed), the name was distorted to Xamdu (Lowes, however, is wrong in stating that also the edition of 1614 had the name Xamdu, since, as shown above, in this version the name can be read clearly: Xaindu). Furthermore, Lowes (1978: 326, n.) indicates a further clue related to the creation of Coleridge's poem: Henri Cordier's 1913 four-volume edition of Henry Yule's two-volume documentary work entitled Cathay and the way thither (1866). In Cordier's new edition we find a note which is very significant concerning the name Xanadu (even if Coleridge had no access to this information), here spelled Sandu and shown to have been used by Marco Polo in the variants Ciandu or Chandu (see also Polo 1871i: 263ff), which derive from the Chinese form Shang-tu (modern Shangdu), for which Kublai Khan opted as a name for his magnificent city and summer residence:
[Sandu is] [t]he Ciandu or Chandu of Marco Polo, where stood that magnificent park and palace, his description of which set Coleridge a-dreaming (or dreaming that he dreamt) that wonderful poem which tells how "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasuredome decree." This becomes all the more curious when we are told on an authority of which Coleridge could have known nothing, that the palace was designed to correspond with one which Kublai had seen in a dream, and of which his memory had retained the plan. / The place was originally Kai p'ingfu, called by the Tartars Kaiminfu, the Chemenfu (miswritten Clemenfu) of Polo; it stood about 150 li beyond the wall, and ten days' journey from Peking. From Kublai it received the name of Shang-tu or "Upper Court"; more than one palace was built in the vicinity, and from 1264, when Kublai began to visit this district, till the fall of the dynasty, these palaces continued to be frequented by the emperors as summer residences. / In the wail which Ssanang Setzen, the Mongol historian, puts into the mouth of Toghon Temur, the last of the Yuen dynasty, when flying from his throne, the changes of lamentation are rung upon the loss of "My Daitu, my capital, my gloriously adorned! my Shangtu, my cool and delicious summer-seat, pleasure dwelling of the earlier gods! Cf. Marco Polo., i, p. 305. / The ruins of the palace and city existed at the end of the seventeenth century, when they were seen, not described, by Gerbillon in 1691; and the imperial geography of the existing dynasty mentions that those ruins contained an inscription of the reign of Kublai. The city is stated to be that which appears in D'Anville's map as Tchao-Naiman-Soume hoton. [...] "The Khans usually resorted to Shang-tu in the 4th moon and returned to Pe-king in the 9th. On the 7th day of the 7th moon there were libations performed in honour of the ancestors; a shaman, his face to the north, uttered in a loud voice the names of Chinghiz Khan and of other deceased Khans, and poured mare's milk on the ground. The propitious day for the return journey to Peking was also appointed then." (Palladius, p. 26.) (Yule 1913ii: 227)
The price of the milk of paradise
Coleridge's "milk of paradise," therefore, had its origin in Polo's reports about the milk of milky white mares that was used in shamanistic rituals by Kubla Khan. However, for S. T. Coleridge (1772, Oct.; Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire-1834, July; Highgate, near London) the "milk of paradise" may have meant, too, the creative vision-generating opium in the refined form of laudanum = opium + alcohol: on a manuscript of Kubla Khan (1797) Coleridge had written the following words, confessing what specific stimulant he had used in order to have that fabulous vision:
"[The poem was] composed in a sort of Reverie brought on by two grains of Opium." (apud Abrams 1971a: x)
This note was published only in 1934, from the "Crewe manuscript of Kubla Khan" (cf. also Perkins 1990: 101). In the 1816 Preface, Coleridge attributed the birth of the poem to "a profound sleep [in his chair], at least of the external senses," induced by "an anodyne," which had been prescribed to alleviate "a slight indisposition." Before falling asleep, he was reading in Purchas his Pilgrimage: "Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto and thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall." The sleep is said to have lasted for about three hours, when "all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort." (Coleridge 2000: 102) It has been interestingly suggested that the word anodyne sounds a little like Xanadu (the common root sounds lanodl-lanadl): this may have been an underground indication by Coleridge that Xanadu is to be found in "Opium-land" (cf. Perkins 1990: 100). (China, alongside Japan and Britain, has indeed a long tradition in this sense--see at least Brook & Wakabayashi 2000.)
Coleridge--who had tasted opium a few times before 1791 and so had had opium dreams before the conception in 1797 of The rime of the Ancient Mariner (Abrams 1971a: 28, 54)--thus came to see the substance of opium as something almost "magical," supernatural, therefore sharing in its nature the magic quality of the imagination, which for him, we remember, was a magical and unifying force, a godly faculty inside man.
At first, Coleridge took opium for rheumatic pains caused by a disease today unknown in the Western world: rheumatic fever, one of the most terrible infantile diseases in the past (cf. Dormandy 2012: 87). Rheumatic fever is now believed to be a stress-related psychosomatic / organic disease, a "periodic imbalance of adrenocorticotrophic functions involved not with bacteria or viruses, but with the individual's fundamental reactivity with the environment" (Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 76).
It appears that the first symptom of this disease emerged when Coleridge was nine years old (cf. Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 77). Later he took the drug also in order to soothe depression (which could be caused, as a side effect, by opium itself) or some similar mental disorders like anxiety. The symptoms were as severe as they were fearful:
[Rheumatic fever] began with a painful acute inflammation of a joint or several joints; but extra-articular complications soon followed. In particular, while the disease 'licked the joints, it bit the heart.' Years later the victim would develop shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles, fluid in the abdomen, chest pain and a cough. Looking increasingly congested, exhausted and labouring for breath, the sufferer went into an undramatic but distressing decline; and the end was inescapable. (Dormandy 2012: 87-88)
A similar picture of this terrible disease is offered by Goldberg & Latimer, who add to the main symptoms, among others, insomnia, dizziness, fainting and swelling of the heart:
[Rheumatic fever could] be touched off arbitrarily by changes in the weather, by emotional stress, and maybe even by regular fluxes in the circadian or lunar cycle. Its acute advent is manifested by a sore throat and coughing--a nonviral cold--progressing to congested lungs, inflammation of the heart and stomach, goutlike swelling in the hands and feet, dizziness, fainting, shooting pains, insomnia, and migraine. With age, swelling of the heart and cardiac irregularities dependably develop, and the victim succumbs either to cardiac arrest or, like Coleridge, to pneumonia. The symptoms were gruesomely complicated and the attacks woefully frequent in Coleridge's case, but they could be miraculously quieted with laudanum. (Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 76)
In such a dreadful condition, it is no wonder that opium may have seemed to Coleridge to be a "godsend," especially if we take into consideration the fact that the only other efficient remedy known to exist against the harrowing pain caused by rheumatic fever salicylates--was introduced in medical practice only around the 1850s (cf. Dormandy 2012: 88; 310, n. 9). Coleridge's regular dose of opium, when he became an addict, was 38 ounces per week (cf. Dormandy 2012: 88, 162). By 1814, he reached an extreme--6 grams per day: according to Joseph Cottle, Coleridge took in 24 hours "a whole quart of laudanum! "--and all that "besides great quantities of liquor" (apud Foxcroft 2007: 32).
Year Zero of Coleridge's opium addiction is thus placed by Goldberg & Latimer (2014: 77) in 1791, when Coleridge, aged 19, had his first bout of rheumatism, so that he spent a few weeks in the infirmary of Jesus College, Cambridge, and thereafter always had near him the "magic" substance which assuaged his pains. He seems to have been "solidly re-addicted" in 1803, while in 1804 he made a voyage to Malta in an attempt to operate a detoxification, but had what seems to be his first heart attack while stopping over for a few days at the Gibraltar. Soon thereafter, he stopped writing poetry, but endlessly kept on trying to terminate his opium addiction.
By 1796, so after five years of complete addiction, Coleridge must already have tasted not only the pleasures, but also the pains of opium (Abrams 1971a: 28): the latter was its price. The mental troubles caused by opium addictive ingestion were complicated by physical troubles: physical pains, general weakness, feverishness, and an alternation of constipation (caused by taking the drug) and diarrhoea (caused by not taking the drug); when he resisted taking the drug, the symptoms would be "indefinite Fear" or "nervous anxiety" (cf. Foxcroft 2007: 32, 34). His aches, however, were at times so severe, that a resistance to ingest the alleviating drug was inconceivable. Here is what Coleridge reports in a memorable (and often quoted) letter of 1796:
[...] I am very unwell. On Wednesday night I was seized with an intolerable pain from my right temple to the tip of my right shoulder, including my right eye, cheek, jaw, and that side of the throat. I was nearly frantic, and ran about the house naked, endeavouring by every means to excite sensations in different parts of my body, and so to weaken the enemy by creating division. It continued from one in the morning till half past five, and left me pale and fainting. It came on fitfully, but not so violently, several times on Thursday, and began severer threats towards night; but I took between sixty and seventy drops of laudanum, and sopped the Cerberus, just as his mouth began to open. On Friday it only niggled, as if the chief had departed from a conquered place, and merely left a small garrison behind, or as if he had evacuated the Corsica, and a few straggling pains only remained. But this morning he returned in full force, and his name is Legion. Giantfiend of a hundred hands, with a shower of arrowy deathpangs he transpierced me, and then he became a wolf, and lay a-gnawing at my bones! I am not mad, most noble Festus, but in sober sadness I have suffered this day more bodily pain than I had before a conception of. My right cheek has certainly been placed with admirable exactness under the focus of some invisible burning-glass, which concentrated all the rays of a Tartarean sun. My medical attendant decides it to be altogether nervous, and that it originates either in severe application, or excessive anxiety. My beloved Poole! in excessive anxiety, I believe it might originate. I have a blister under my right ear, and I take twenty-five drops of laudanum every five hours, the ease and spirits gained by which have enabled me to write you this flighty but not exaggerated account. With a gloomy wantonness of imagination I had been coquetting with the hideous possibles of disappointment. I drank fears like wormwood, yea, made myself drunken with bitterness; for my ever-shaping and distrustful mind still mingled gall-drops, till out of the cup of hope I almost poisoned myself with despair. (Letter to Thomas Poole, dated 5 November 1796; Coleridge 1895i: 173-175)
Under these dire medical circumstances, in 1798 Coleridge came to praise the "divine" opium in a letter to his brother:
Laudanum gave me repose, not sleep; but you, I believe, know how divine that repose is, what a spot of enchantment, a green spot of fountain and flowers and trees in the very heart of a waste of sands! (Letter to the Rev. George Coleridge, dated April 1798; Coleridge 1895i: 240; cf. also Abrams 1971a: 3)
Later, when the struggle to resist the addictive need to ingest opium became increasingly fiercer, Coleridge came to complain even before Wilkie Collins's mother, who is reported to have encouraged Coleridge as follows:
Mr. Coleridge, do not cry. If the opium does you good and you must have it, why don't you go and get it? (apud Dormandy 2012: 171) [These words may have decisively influenced Wilkie Collins in his decision to take opium, first as a remedy against pains in the limbs and the eyes, probably caused by the same disease: rheumatic fever].
Coleridge's view of opium thus comes quite close to the later idea embraced by Baudelaire that hashish enables man to experience a paradise regained, which in Coleridge's case was also equivalent to a perfect health in body and mind, which he desperately desired. This paradise found, however, was only an "artificial paradise" that in reality was the effect of "a distortion of the senses" (cf. Le poeme du haschisch; apud Abrams 1971b: 416). The aims of such sensory distortion were clear: 1) benumbing the perception of unutterable physical pain, even if the causes of the pain remained untouched; 2) gaining access to a mental transcendental Eden. The fact that the causes remained untouched and the disease remained unremedied even if the pain was temporarily soothed--is what brought Coleridge often on the brink of despair, because he realized that "the Cerberus" (i.e. the rheumatic fever) could only be "sopped," dowsed, but not really uprooted once and for all.
What is essential in our context, however, is the fact that for some time Coleridge saw in opium an agent for reaching higher altered states of consciousness, for expanding one's mind: opium was a mental gate-opener leading him to another world, which was as different from the one we normally inhabit as Earth is different from Mars (cf. the keen comparison in Abrams 1971a: 4). Even if in later years, when the addiction was deep and irreversible, Coleridge spent much energy in cursing the "dirty business of Laudanum," which he identified as "this free-agency-annihilating Poison" (cf. letter to J. J. Morgan, dated 14 May 1814; Coleridge 1994ii: 107, 108) and as "this detested poison" (cf. letter to James Gillman, dated 13 April 1816; Coleridge 1895ii: 659), to him Opium was the master key to reaching a magic dreamland, where natural and terrestrial laws no longer applied, space and time themselves being dissolved into something ethereal, alive, eternal and infinite (cf. Abrams 1971a: 4, 5, 11). [For Coleridge's references to opium as poison, see also Abrams 1971a: xi; Foxcroft 2007: 30; Dormandy 2012: 86]. Consequently, opium operated the following (possible, probable or certain) changes in the human perception (we follow Abrams's descriptions of the "delights of opium"):
1) It would induce short-lived euphoria (a hypo-, meso-, or hypermanic high) stimulating the vivid manifestation of some phantasmagoria, whose symbolic language and complexity depended on the individual's cultural and social background and his/her intellectual inclinations. In this sense, there is no way of knowing what particular aspect of one's personality was enhanced, stimulated, modified, etc., by the ingestion of the drug--however, now it is clear that the visual perception seems to always be intensified or only modified in some way, the tendency being (as in De Quincey; cf. Abrams 1971a: 39) for various fragments of past memories to become fused together and activated into the opium dream imagery. The same would have to be true even if addiction had already set in: ingestion would bring up only short periods of manic ups. Homer (in The Odyssey, book 4), in this sense, qualified opium as a drug that had the power to heal pain and anger, stimulating oblivion of all anguish, while Vergil (in Georgies, I, 78) made reference to the "poppies soaked with the sleep of Lethe" ("Lethaeo perfusa papavero somno") (cf. Abrams 1971a: 3).
2) It could intensify or distortively modify all sense perceptions, but especially hearing and sight, bringing up a fluidization of (visual, acoustic, etc.) images, to the point of creating in the mind an overwhelmingly rushing and restless phantasmagoric kaleidoscope of images, lights, colours, sounds, perfumes, tastes, etc., "fading, receding, expanding, brightening" (Abrams 1971a: 15, 20; cf. also Baudelaire's statements about opium visions), seeming to belong to another, exotic or surreal, world, but for the experiencer just as real as physical reality (cf. Abrams 1971a: 5, 10). The intensification of lights and colours is, however, the most characteristic. Given this important aspect, opium dreams could be remembered as if they had been the expression of a lived reality majestic and exalted in nature. (De Quincey, for instance, had splendid visions of cities and palaces never seen on earth, and of lakes and oceans producing overpowering spectacles of light; cf. Abrams 1971a: 9). Sinclair Lewis's "rushing narrative" seems to have something of the kaleidoscopic quality of opium dreams or narcotic trance (in Sinclair Lewis's case, probably often alcohol-induced).
3) It could dilate space into infinity or an indefinitely vast (hyper)spatial dimension--related with this is the soaring illusion of flight or floating often associated with opium ingestion (or any other narcotic trance). In De Quincey's opium visions, for instance, mountains were exalted to overpowering heights. The space dilation could alternate repeatedly with space contraction. This opiate effect Abrams (1971a: 47) calls (discussing Lowes's view of Kubla Khan) the "extraordinary mutations of space."
4) It could dissolve temporal limits or distort time altogether, making the moment seem eternal or indefinitely vast. In one of his opium dreams, De Quincey, for instance, felt transfixed atop a pagoda for centuries on end (cf. Abrams 1971a: 19), time being thus dilated beyond any possible human experience--this effect, however, verges on the "dark side" of the opium "equation."
Goldberg & Latimer (2014: 75) speak of two main pleasant effects: "physical euphoria" and "emotional centeredness," accompanied with "the deepest calm of Joy."
As pointed out by Foxcroft (2007: 32), Coleridge saw in opium an "agent of the imagination," and not only a "free-agency-annihilating Poison," thus "anticipating the 20th century medical view that the effects of a drug will depend as much on the psychological make-up and the environment of the user as upon the properties of the substance." Abrams (1971a: xii, 39, etc.) emphasized the psychological and intellectual make-up of the user when discussing the effects of the drug. De Quincey, for instance, likewise paradoxically, saw in opium a poison, but also a cure; a skeleton key for opening access to an artificial paradise (like Baudelaire), but also to a natural paradise, his sense of the sublime being thus both exhilarated and annihilated at the same time (cf. Ford 2007: 229-249, apud Morrison 2013: xxii, n. 32).
There were thus unmistakeably serious downsides and a price to be paid for the benefits brought on by this mental gate-opener: the positive effects (the "pleasures of opium") were, as pointed out, short-lived, and when opium was no longer ingested by the opium addict, the consequences were their transformation into terrible hallucinations of "opium delirium": nightmares, feverish feelings of horror or guilt or (physical/moral) torture, depression, deep anxiety, a tumult of noise, "persecution through eternity," "delirious misery," desolation, wrath, (Coleridge's deranged feeling of) "counterfeit infinity" (cf. Abrams 1971a: 31).
Coleridge called the negative opium effects "screamers," of which there were two types: 1) "dreams of sorrow and pain," which only "worsted" him, but did not "conquer" him; and 2) an infinite perception of ontological ruin, not endowed with images, but haunting--something reminding us of Kierkegaard's anxiety of nothingness. The latter shot fear into Coleridge's bones, keeping him sleepless night after night (cf. Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 78). De Quincey's, on the other hand, was an anxiety of something a little more concrete: he had the delusional impression of being followed by someone, a genie-like Malay, so that sleep for him became a "savage torture" (cf. Abrams 1971a: 10, 11); his imagination being vast, opium had effects of kaleidoscopic and carnivalesque richness, plunging him into all possible levels and dimensions of spatial and temporal existence:
[In his Chinese chambers, he was] hooted at, grinned at, chattered at by monkeys, by perroquets, cocatoos ... ran into pagodas ... was fixed for centuries in secret rooms ... was worshiped ... was sacrificed ... fled from the wrath of Brahma through the forests of Asia ... was buried for a thousand years in stone coffins with mummies and sphinxes . was kissed with cancerous kisses by crocodiles and laid, confounded with unutterable slimy things, amongst reeds and Nilotic mud. (De Quincey; apud Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 82)
These types of troubles were presented by Coleridge in The pains of sleep (1803), and in this connection Robertson (1897: 137, n.) speaks of the "malefic results of the opium habit" encoded in this poem. By that time (1803), Coleridge had already been in the "labours" of opium for over twelve years, so he had become quite familiar with them, which is why the poem seems to be almost a "clinical description of the junkie waking up from the sweet honey-moon with the drug to the nightmare of a lifelong liaison" (Dormandy 2012: 88). De Quincey talked about these troubles in The pains of opium (cf. Abrams 1971a: x).
Coleridge's was thus a milk of a dangerous paradise: to be more exact, he used the "Lancashire Genuine Black Drop," produced by a renowned Quaker physician, Dr. John Airey Braithwaite. A few relevant details are in order, if we are to better understand for what Coleridge was to pay the high price he paid:
The unique virtue of Braithwaite's Black Drop, priced at the connoisseur rate of eleven shillings per four-ounce bottle, was its strength. To the Braithwaites, as devout Quakers, alcohol was a pernicious and unmanning poison. They accordingly bought only the "best Turkey Opium dried," and steeped it for days in saffron, cloves, and powerful acetic acid. The resulting nonalcoholic suspension was advertised as four times the strength of ordinary laudanum, and that was probably a modest claim. As in the case of Paracelsus' Anodyne Specific, prolonged acetylation of the morphine content of Lancashire Genuine Black Drop must have converted a good fraction of it into straight heroin. (Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 79)
So Coleridge must have, at least at times, been literally immersed in heroin addiction, all of which "transfigured and enskied him" (Robertson 1897: 141). This may explain the rebelliousness of the addiction, which resisted being removed no matter what the tricky Coleridge attempted against it--it would appear that Coleridge beat himself up, being even trickier when it came to inventing means for preserving the addiction.
On the other hand, in Kubla Khan, as Abrams (1971a: 47) pointed out, the poet kept only the positive aspects of opium ingestion (the "pleasures" and "delights") and allowed no room for the "tortures of opium." He reserved his other famous poem, The rime of the Ancient Mariner, for the task of revealing the dark and darker imagery stemming from opium dreams morphing into terrible opium nightmares. Abrams brilliantly evaluated the situation as follows, definitively explaining what Lowes had left unexplained in his famous book on Xanadu:
For fleeting moments of relief and revelation, Coleridge paid with a loss of creative power, even of moral sense, and with a lifetime of physical and mental torture. But to those moments we owe part of The Ancient Mariner, all of Kubla Khan, and both are like oases in our dusty lives. There is nothing frightening in their rich strangeness. Rather, they are to be the more dearly cherished because of the fearful toll exacted for beauty stolen from another world. (Abrams 1971a: 49)
Indeed, Lowes had believed that The rime of the Ancient Mariner had not been stimulated by opium ingestion at all, this poem being in his view a creative result of the many readings Coleridge had been steeped in. Contrariwise, Abrams (1971a: 35, 36, 38, 39, 40) was of the opinion that Coleridge had "opium hallucinations" even while reading the very books from which he was to extract his ideas and images later to be used in the The rime of the Ancient Mariner, so much so that opium cannot be excluded as a source of inspiration in the birth of this poem, besides the other sources like the "literature of Elizabethan travellers and alchemistic handbooks." Coleridge's "opium hallucinations" and "opium dream of [spectral] persecution" were present before and at inception, as well as through the whole process of its composition. For his "toils of opium" (Abrams 1971a: 33), however, Coleridge indeed may have paid a price that involved the total loss of his extraordinary poetic creativity that no one can deny is present at least in his two masterpieces, the abortive majestic Kubla Khan and the stylistically exquisite and psychologically magnificently haunting The rime of the Ancient Mariner. It is very likely that no two other poems in world literature succeeded in blending so thoroughly the light side with the dark side of existence, binding together dream and nightmare, life and death, joy and horror, courage and terror, in order to erect a poetic temple to the romantic imagination.
The loss of creativity, therefore, seems to be the great price to be paid when the creator dares force the limits of artistic possibility by opium ingestion, as Abrams emphasized for the cases of Coleridge and De Quincey:
Baudelaire's involuntary predecessors in drug addiction, Coleridge and De Quincy, had looked upon the novelty of experience made possible by opium as a temporary result, for which the penalty is enslavement of the will and the destruction not only of human autonomy and dignity but of creativity as well. Baudelaire too warned that the paradis par la pharmacie is evanescent, but that its price is enduring slavery to "a poison." Man, wanting "to be God," falls "lower than his actual nature," and "what is a paradise that one buys at the cost of his eternal salvation?" (Abrams 1971b: 416)
The opium issue in the artistic endeavour, consequently, became a matter much akin to the Faustian compact: buying knowledge at the cost of one's eternal life. Opium bought highest human creativity and access to alien worlds for a similar price. George McLean Harper summarized quite well Coleridge's situation regarding his use of opium, referring to Dorothy Wordsworth's Grasmere Journal:
Prior to his return from Germany, in the summer of 1799, he had not become a slave to opium, though the habit of taking it had been formed. In the next three years the vice grew fixed, his will decayed, he produced less, and fell into depths of remorse. From Dorothy's Grasmere journal it appears unlikely that she or her brother understood the reason for the change which they undoubtedly perceived in him. Love blinded them to the cause, while making them quick to see and lament the effects. [...] The situation was not rendered less delicate by the fact that he was unhappy with his wife; and Dorothy's extraordinary power of self-abnegation must have been strained almost unendurably when she found that the woman for whom Coleridge felt most affection was Sarah Hutchinson. [...] She was his amanuensis and close companion when he lived, as he did for months at a time, with the Wordsworths at Grasmere. Their hospitality knew no bounds where he was concerned, and their patience with him as he bent more and more under the power of narcotics and stimulants was almost inexhaustible. / In the winter of 1801-1802, the two causes of Coleridge's unhappiness, opium and domestic discord, worked havoc with him and brought him to despair. The wings of poesy were broken, as he realized full well. (Harper 1968: 153-154)
The price of opium--which was aggravatingly combined with the cost for domestic trouble--in Coleridge's case was therefore mainly deep depression and loss of creativity. It is indeed ironic that Kubla Khan itself has come to be interpreted as "a poem on the Romantic theme of lost inspiration that represents the loss occurring" (Perkins 2000: 102): a poem about the breaking of the wings of poetry that was at the same time enacted in the poet's life. In effect, Coleridge's notebook and his correspondence--even if perhaps not always reliable--have become, like De Quincey's novel, often-quoted documents used for medical insight into "the torments and tribulations of a brilliant mind in bondage to opium"; together with De Quincey, Coleridge came to be associated with the "Romantic image of the opium-eating, opium-inspired and opium-enslaved artist" (Dormandy 2012: 86, 88). The image of the romantic "opium-enslaved artist" was even more enhanced by Robert Southey's allegations directed against James Gillman, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, who had accepted to medically take care of Coleridge and his opium addiction. Thus, according to Southey, Gillman "speculated" on Coleridge in a cold and calculated manner, "hoping to ride his [own] reputation with notoriety and practice," expressly making Coleridge abandon his friends and so remain "largely in debt to [him] [i.e. Gillman]." In Southey's interpretation, Gillman is supposed to have done everything he could to keep Coleridge close to his "habits of opium," so that Gillman's medical services kept on being required (cf. Foxcroft 2012: 34).
Whether there is any truth in Southey's claims, we may never know. What we do know is that Gillman medically cared for Coleridge for no less than 18 years, starting from 15 April 1816, when Coleridge--aged 44--showed up in Highgate, London, at the surgeon's house, intending to stay there for one month only. Coleridge ended up staying there up to his death in July 1834, at the age of 62 (cf. Dormandy 2012: 86). A steep price indeed to be paid for the milky "Poison" of paradise, which Coleridge's friends saw as his own Muse: how could anyone even conceive of attempting to rob him of his very source of inspiration?
Indeed, the dynamics of opium ingestion was dangerously incremental: the longer one took the drug, the more of it one required in ever increasing doses, in the context of becoming more and more miserable and depressed. This is why Coleridge came to suspect that he suffered from some sort of madness, which pushed him into losing his will power, thus reaching a condition of mental paralysis or automatism, in which he behaved compulsively:
If it could be said with as little appearance of profaneness, as there is feeling or intention in my mind, I might affirm: that I had been crucified, dead, and buried, descended into Hell, and am now, I humbly trust, rising again, tho' slowly and gradually. [...] I know, it will be vain to attempt to persuade Mrs Morgan or Charlotte, that a man, whose moral feelings, reason, understanding, and senses are perfectly sane and vigorous, may yet have been mad--And yet nothing is more true. By the long long Habit of the accursed Poison [the opium] my Volition (by which I mean the faculty instrumental to the Will, and by which alone the Will can realize itself--its Hands, Legs, & Feet, as it were) was compleatly deranged, at times frenzied, dissevered itself from the Will, & became an independent faculty: so that I was perpetually in the state, in which you may have seen paralytic Persons, who attempting to push a step forward in one direction are violently forced round to the opposite. I was sure that no ease, much less pleasure, would ensue: nay, I was certain of an accumulation of pain. But tho' there was no prospect, no gleam of Light before, an indefinite indescribable Terror as with a scourge of ever restless, ever coiling and uncoiling Serpents, drove me on from behind. (Letter to J. J. Morgan, dated 14 May 1814; Coleridge 1994ii: 107)
That his idealistic side was divided against his materialistic side, which took over when it came to the necessity to ingest opium, is clearly demonstrated in the following lines:
[...] I have in this one dirty business of Laudanum an hundred times deceived, tricked, nay, actually & consciously LIED.--And yet all these vices are so opposite to my nature, that but for this free-agency-annihilating Poison [the opium], I verily believe that I should have suffered myself to have been cut to pieces rather than have committed any one of them. (Letter to J. J. Morgan, dated 14 May 1814; Coleridge 1994ii: 107-108)
His total lack of control over his opium problem led critics to see in him the "ultimate addict," in whom one like De Quincey recognized "a Brahmin of addiction," who was quite aware that his poetic genius (but not necessarily his critical genius) had been poisoned by the opium (Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 71, 74).
Given this entire picture of Coleridge's opium addiction, we deem that Foxcroft (2012: 35-36) is right in emphasizing that the period of "more than 30 years" of admitted "self-poisoning" is exceedingly more complex than certain critics (like Molly Lefebure and Alethea Hayter) would have us believe. It is far too simplistic to dismiss entirely everything Coleridge wrote about himself on this matter; it is simply not a scientific or medically sound attitude to state--without any investigation, therefore based only on preconception that addicts say only lies. It may be that not everything Coleridge confessed was entirely true (see his "notorious sneakiness" when it came to maintaining his opium habit--nothing could stand in his way, his inventiveness being unlimited; cf. Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 81), but this should not lead us into the extreme of discarding all of Coleridge's corpus of confessional writings, especially his letters (now extant in a magnificent six-volume edition). Not devoid of interest are also his "table talks," which were held precisely in the Gillman dining hall and during his "incarceration" period there: this hall became in fact a "tourist attraction" for intellectuals, young ladies and promising poets, and all this at a time when in America a veritable Coleridge cult was forming, later to ramify into such movements as the romantic Transcendentalist Club, Coleridge himself becoming a model of the Transcendentalist philosopher.
Besides the controversy regarding the truthfulness / trustworthiness of his confessions, it is interesting to observe that another, medically more interesting, controversy exists with regard to Coleridge's death: it would appear that the autopsy revealed the existence of a "monstrously enlarged heart" and a grossly exuberant "lung fluid"--symptoms showing the presence of "acute bronchopneumonia occurring as a complication of long-standing chronic rheumatism, not opium-poisoning" (cf. Gillman's reports; apud Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 76). The fact proves medically that his rheumatism was not at all remedied by the opium--the latter only numbed the physical perception of the pain which signalled to the body the presence of the disease in the first place, the pain itself being a natural mechanism setting the alarm that something is wrong in the body. As such, the opium only complicated the already present disease, so that the final price for the opium use was doubly great at least.
Given this price, we believe that attacks against Coleridge and his masterpieces (The rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Kubla Khan) as launched by John Mackinnon Robertson, when the opium problem was uncovered, are unfounded. Coleridge's masterpieces, even if written under the effects of opium, cannot simply be dismissed as "an abnormal product of an abnormal nature under abnormal conditions," because "all conceived and composed under the influence of opium in the first stages of the indulgence" (Robertson 1897: 138, 187; cf. also Abrams 1971a: 35, 74, n. 105; Goldberg & Latimer 2014: 78, n.).
Coleridge's opium "equation" is much too complex, as we have tried to show in the present debate, for the author to be driven away from the history of literary creativity as a negative example. As in Virginia Woolfs case, the man (with all his life) and the disease (with all its composite components and co-morbidities) and the alleged remedy (with all the doctors involved) form one complex equation, a unity of sorts, whose fundamental characteristic is its uniqueness. This seems to be admitted paradoxically even by Robertson himself, who concluded the following on Coleridge's genius and opium addiction:
[T]here is something in [Coleridge's] whole life and cast of character that squares with the view of him as a strangely compounded creature, capable, under special conditions, of performances quite incommensurable with his average work. He was emphatically a man moved by others, leaning on friends, drifting rudderless before winds of sympathy or necessity, taking shape and colour from anything rather than a central purpose. Opium was for him one more determinant; and in the first stage, before his fibre was sodden or degenerate with it, it might well be the most marvellous of all the influences he underwent. And it ought surely to be rather a comfort than otherwise thus to find a soul of goodness in the evil thing, to see a compensation in his weakness rather than merely to deplore and denounce it. (Robertson 1897: 142)
The "magic of sound and thought wholly incomparable" (Robertson 1897: 189) that Coleridge reached in Kubla Khan, which brought him "literary immortality," came at the high price of all his later failures, frustrations, unfinished projects, desperations.
Xanadu: a word with Sumerian origins; Marco Polo's accounts
On the other hand, as we can see in the explanations above, Yule (1914iii: 118, n.) indicates that in Shang-tu the root tu means "court" or "imperial residence," and shang = "upper" (he also mentions the compound Pe-king with the root king = "imperial capital"). In fact, in contemporary Chinese Shang-du means "upper metropolis," or "big city on top," or "above the metropolis": shang = "on top (of)," "above"; and du = "big city," "metropolis" (Dong 2011: 44, 154). The meaning of Bei-jing is "north capital city": bei = "north," jing = "capital city" (cf. Dong 2011: 8, 95). The famous city Shang-hai thus means "above the sea" (because the city was thus built) or "upper sea": shang = "on top," "upper"; hai = "sea" (Dong 2011: 70, 154).
As Lowes (1978: 328) rightly emphasized, in the emergence of Kubla Khan the crucial sources are, however, not at all restricted to just Purchas his pilgrimage: a sure companion to this essential treasure trove of historical knowledge was Purchas his pilgrimes (20 volumes). Here Coleridge found yet another version of the name of Kublai's city in which his summer residence was built: Xandu (Purchas 1906xi: 221, 231, 251).
This version (Xandu) comes closest to the Chinese variant of Shang-du ("upper metropolis"), which no doubt derives ultimately from a Sumerian form, SAG.DU = "built top": SAG = "head," or "top" (sag was pronounced in Sumerian with a nasal /g/: sang; also, the s may have been the fricative /sh/, hence SAG may have been pronounced /shang/); and du = "created," "built" or "to erect." The derivation of the Chinese shang ("on top") from the Sumerian SAG ("head," "peak," "top") was observed by C. J. Ball in his groundbreaking book entitled Chinese and Sumerian:
[Sumerian] SAG, SANG: head, top (SAG = NAG = NAM, NAN) [Chinese] Shang, shong, shong, siong, ziae, zong, jong; (in Japan) djo; (in Annam) t'ong: up; top, high, upper; on. (shan = nan) (Ball 1913: 111)
In this sense, we recall that the Sumerian HAR.SAG or HUR.SAG meant "mountain top," "mountain head," being the (highest and crucially important) mountain abode (in the southern Sinai) of the great Sumerian goddess Ninharsag (the "mother of gods and men," known also as Ninti = "the lady of life"; and as Ninmah = "great lady"; and as Ki = "mother earth"), a place connected in its importance with the Sumerian E.KUR ("mountain house" or "temple like a mountain": e = "house"; kur = "mountain"), which denoted the great pyramid of Gizeh in Egypt (cf. Sitchin 2007iii: 158; for the context of Harsag/Hursag, see also Kramer 1972: 81, 82). Also, we recall that the Sumerian E.SAG.IL meant "house of the top god" or of the "chief/great god" or "house of the lofty head," or "temple whose head is lofty," being the name of Marduk's royal-imperial ziggurattemple of Babylon, which was built according to a "ground plan of heaven and earth," meaning that the earthly structure was in accord with the heavenly configurations (Sitchin 2007v: 339). What is therefore remarkable is that the Sumerian root SAG ("head," "peak") appears in terminology connected with mountains, hills, pyramids, ziggurats--in general, structures that imply the vertical, and especially the highest part thereof. Coleridge's name Xanadu therefore contains the notion of ascent and verticality--semantically a fit name for a romantic city of "infinite abundance in infinite unity": Xanadu < Shang-du < SAG.DU.
Lewis's Zenith, likewise, has the same vectors in the name's etymology, since the word derives from the Arab samt, which is a contraction of samt-ar-ras, meaning "the way overhead," with: samt = "road," "path," "way," "tract"; ras = "head." In its etymology, therefore, the word Zenith, like Xanadu, contains a root meaning "head": the Sumerian SAG in Xanadu; the Arab ras in Zenith. What is more, the Arab ras derives from the Hebrew root resh meaning "head" or "chief' (see Strong 2001), which in turn derives from the Akkadian reshu(m) or rashu(m), meaning "head," "beginning," "peak," "top" an equivalent of the Sumerian SAG (Black et al 2000: 302). (Interestingly, the Akkadian reshtu(m) means "primeval," used of a city). We have therefore the following etymological "equations" for the two names of cities:
1) Xanadu < Shang-du < SAG.DU.
2) Zenith < Samt < Samt-ar-ras; R.as < Resh < Reshu(m) / Rashu(m) = SAG.
In Purchas his pilgrimes (vol 11), Coleridge may have run across the following version of the story of Kublai Khan, "Lord of Lords" (Purchas 1906xi: 233), and his "Xandu," here in a narrative with more details about the palace:
This Citie is three dayes journey Northeastward to the Citie Xandu, which the great Chan Cublay now raigning, built; erecting therein a marvellous and artificiall Palace of Marble and other stones, which abutteth on the wall on one side, and the midst of the Citie on the other. He included sixteene miles within the circuit of the wall on that side where the Palace abutteth on the Citie wall, into which none can enter but by the Palace. In this inclosure or Parke [see the Akkadian pardesu having precisely this meaning whence the word paradise derives] are goodly meadowes, springs, rivers, red and fallow Deere, Fawnes carryed thither for the Hawkes, (of which are there mewed above two hundred Gerfalcons [i.e. Arctic falcons] which he goeth once a weeke to see) and he often useth one Leopard or more, sitting on Horses, which hee setteth upon the Stagges and Deere, & having taken the beast, giveth it to the Gerfalcons, and in beholding this spectacle he taketh wonderfull delight. In the middest in a faire Wood hee hath built a royall House on pillars gilded and vernished, on every of which is a Dragon all gilt, which windeth his tayle about the pillar, with his head bearing up the loft, as also with his wings displayed on both sides: the cover also is of Reeds gilt and varnished, so that the rayne can doe it no injurie, the reeds being three handfuls thicke and ten yards long, split from knot to knot. The house it selfe also may be sundred, and taken downe like a Tent and erected againe. For it is sustained, when it is set up, with two hundred silken cords. Great Chan useth to dwell there three moneths in the yeare, to wit, in June, July, and August. On the eight and twentieth day of August, he departeth to make a solemne sacrifice. He hath an herd of white Horses, and white Mares, about ten thousand, of the milke whereof none may drinke except hee be of the progenie of Cingis Can, except one family, called Boriat, priviledged hereto by Cingis for their valour. And these beasts as they goe up and downe feeding are much reverenced, nor dare any goe before them or hinder their way. The Astrologers or Sorcerers tell Chan that on the twentie eight of the Moone of August, he should disperse that milke heere and there, for the honour of all spirits and his Idols, that they might be carefull preservers of all those things which he possesseth. (Purchas 1906xi: 231-232)
The information offered here by Purchas had been borrowed by him from Marco Polo's writings, which back then were not yet available in English. Here is Marco Polo's direct account (almost in full), in Henry Yule's 1871 English translation:
Chapter LXI: Of the City of Chandu, and the Kaan's Palace there. And when you have ridden three days from the city last mentioned [Chagan-Nor, meaning in Mongol "White Lake"], between northeast and north, you come to a city called Chandu, which was built by the Kaan now reigning. There is at this place a very fine marble Palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment. / Round this Palace a wall is built, inclosing a compass of 16 miles, and inside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons and hawks which he keeps there in mew. Of these there are more than 200 gerfalcons alone, without reckoning the other hawks. The Kaan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse's croup; and then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it, and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion. / Moreover (at a spot in the Park where there is a charming wood) he has another Palace built of cane, of which I must give you a description. It is gilt all over, and most elaborately finished inside. (It is stayed on gilt and lackered columns, on each of which is a dragon all gilt, the tail of which is attached to the column whilst the head supports the architrave, and the claws likewise are stretched out right and left to support the architrave.) The roof, like the rest, is formed of canes, covered with a varnish so strong and excellent that no amount of rain will rot them. These canes are a good 3 palms in girth, and from 10 to 15 paces in length. [...] In short, the whole Palace is built of these canes, which (I may mention) serve also for a great variety of other useful purposes. The construction of the Palace is so devised that it can be taken down and put up again with great celerity; and it can all be taken to pieces and removed whithersoever the Emperor may command. When erected, it is stayed (against mishaps from the wind) by more than 200 cords of silk. / The Lord abides at this Park of his, dwelling sometimes in the Marble Palace and sometimes in the Cane Palace for three months of the year, to wit June, July, and August; preferring this residence because it is by no means hot; in fact it is a very cool place. When the 28th day of (the Moon of) August arrives he takes his departure, and the Cane Palace is taken to pieces. But I must tell you what happens when he goes away from this Palace every year on the 28th of the August (Moon). You must know that the Kaan keeps an immense stud of white horses and mares; in fact more than 10,000 of them, and all pure white without a speck. The milk of these mares is drunk by himself and his family, and by none else, except by those of one great tribe that have also the privilege of drinking it [see Coleridge's "milk of paradise"]. This privilege was granted them by Chinghis Kaan, on account of a certain victory that they helped him to win long ago. The name of the tribe is Horiad. / Now when these mares are passing across the country, and any one falls in with them, be he the greatest lord in the land, he must not presume to pass until the mares have gone by; he must either tarry where he is, or go a half-day's journey round if need so be, so as not to come nigh them; for they are to be treated with the greatest respect. Well, when the Lord sets out from the Park on the 28th of August, as I told you, the milk of all those mares is taken and sprinkled on the ground. And this is done on the injunction of the Idolaters and Idol-priests, who say that it is an excellent thing to sprinkle that milk on the ground every 28th of August, so that the Earth and the Air and the False Gods shall have their share of it, and the Spirits likewise that inhabit the Air and the Earth. And thus those beings will protect and bless the Kaan and his children and his wives and his folk and his gear, and his cattle and his horses, his corn and all that is his. After this is done, the Emperor is off and away. / But I must now tell you a strange thing that hitherto I have forgotten to mention. During the three months of every year that the Lord resides at that place, if it should happen to be bad weather, there are certain crafty enchanters and astrologers in his train, who are such adepts in necromancy and the diabolic arts, that they are able to prevent any cloud or storm from passing over the spot on which the Emperor's Palace stands. The sorcerers who do this are called Tebet and Kesimur, which are the names of two nations of Idolaters. Whatever they do in this way is by the help of the Devil, but they make those people believe that it is compassed by dint of their own sanctity and the help of God. (They always go in a state of dirt and uncleanness, devoid of respect for themselves, or for those who see them, unwashed, unkempt, and sordidly attired.) [...] There is another marvel performed by those Bacsi, of whom I have been speaking as knowing so many enchantments. For when the Great Kaan is at his capital and in his great Palace, seated at his table, which stands on a platform some eight cubits above the ground, his cups are set before him (on a great buffet) in the middle of the hall pavement, at a distance of some ten paces from his table, and filled with wine, or other good spiced liquor such as they use. Now when the Lord desires to drink, these enchanters by the power of their enchantments cause the cups to move from their place without being touched by anybody, and to present themselves to the Emperor! This every one present may witness, and there are ofttimes more than 10,000 persons thus present. 'Tis a truth and no lie! and so will tell you the sages of our own country who understand necromancy, for they also can perform it. / And when the Idol Festivals come round, these Bacsi go to the Prince and say: "Sire, the Feast of such a god is come" (naming him). "My Lord, you know," the enchanter will say, "that this god, when he gets no offerings, always sends bad weather and spoils our seasons. So we pray you to give us such and such a number of black-faced sheep," naming whatever number they please. "And we beg also, good my lord, that we may have such a quantity of incense, and such a quantity of lign-aloes, and" so much of this, so much of that, and so much of t'other, according to their fancy--"that we may perform a solemn service and a great sacrifice to our Idols, and that so they may be induced to protect us and all that is ours." / The Bacsi say these things to the Barons entrusted with the Stewardship, who stand round the Great Kaan, and these repeat them to the Kaan, and he then orders the Barons to give everything that the Bacsi have asked for. And when they have got the articles they go and make a great feast in honour of their god, and hold great ceremonies of worship with grand illuminations and quantities of incense of a variety of odours, which they make up from different aromatic spices. And then they cook the meat, and set it before the idols, and sprinkle the broth hither and thither, saying that in this way the idols get their bellyful. Thus it is that they keep their festivals. You must know that each of the idols has a name of his own, and a feast-day, just as our Saints have their anniversaries. / They have also immense Minsters and Abbeys, some of them as big as a small town, with more than two thousand monks (i. e. after their fashion) in a single abbey. These monks dress more decently than the rest of the people, and have the head and beard shaven. There are some among these Bacsi who are allowed by their rule to take wives, and who have plenty of children. / Then there is another kind of devotees called Sensin, who are men of extraordinary abstinence after their fashion, and lead a life of such hardship as I will describe. All their life long they eat nothing but bran, which they take mixt with hot water. That is their food, bran and nothing but bran, and water for their drink. 'Tis a lifelong fast! so that I may well say their life is one of extraordinary asceticism. They have great idols, and plenty of them; but they sometimes also worship fire. The other Idolaters who are not of this sect call these people heretics--Patarins as we should say--because they do not worship their idols in their own fashion. Those of whom I am speaking would not take a wife on any consideration. They wear dresses of hempen stuff, black and blue, and sleep upon mats; in fact their asceticism is something astonishing. Their idols are all feminine, that is to say, they have women's names. / Now let us have done with this subject, and let me tell you of the great state and wonderful magnificence of the Great Lord of Lords; I mean that great Prince who is the Sovereign of the Tartars, Cublay by name, that most noble and puissant Lord. (Polo 1871i: 263-268)
From Marco Polo's report, it seems clear where Coleridge took his idea regarding the "milk of Paradise": Kublai's drinking the milk of white mares and, on leaving the summer residence, his sprinkling the milk in a magical-shamanistic ritual (as mentioned already) for ensuring fertility and protection from spirits of nature.
Also in Purchas his pilgrimes Coleridge surely found the story of the "Old Man of the Mountayne," Aloadine, in the chapter entitled Observations of M. Polo, of Armenia, Turkie, Zorzania, Baldach, Persia, Chirmain, Cobniam, Ormus, Knave-fooles Paradise, and other easterne parts in Asia, and Armenia the lesse. Key term here was of course the knave-fool's paradise, the story of which must have fascinated Coleridge so much that his subconscious mind worked over the elements thereof into the masterpiece poem. Because the relevant text from this chapter in Purchas's Pilgrimes is rather difficult of access otherwise, we offer it here in full as evidentiary support in the debate concerning the sources for the creation of Coleridge's powerful myth of Xanadu:
Mulehet is in Saracen Language, as much to say as a place of Heretikes, and of this place they call the men Mulehetici, that is, Heretikes in their Law, as with us Patarines. Having spoken of the Countrey, the old man of the Mountayne shall bee spoken of, of whom Marco heard much from many. His name was Aloadine, and was a Mahumetan. Hee had in a goodly Valley betwixt two Mountaynes very high, made a goodly Garden, furnished with the best trees and fruits he could find, adorned with divers Palaces and houses of pleasure, beautified with gold Workes, Pictures, and Furnitures of silke. There by divers Pipes answering divers parts of those Palaces were seene to runne Wine, Milke, Honey and cleere Water. In them hee had placed goodly Damosels skilfull in Songs and Instruments of Musicke and Dancing, and to make Sports and Delights unto men whatsoever they could imagine. They were also fairely attyred in Gold and Silke, and were seene to goe continually sporting in the Garden and Palaces. He made this Palace, because Mahomet had promised such a sensuall Paradise to his devout followers. No man might enter: for at the mouth of the Valley was a strong Castle, and the entrance was by a secret passage. / Aloadine had certaine Youthes from twelve to twentie yeares of age, such as seemed of a bold and undoubted disposition, whom hee instructed daily touching Mahomets Paradise, and how hee could bring men thither. And when he thought good, he caused a certaine Drinke to bee given unto ten or twelve of them, which cast them in a dead sleepe: and then hee caused them to be carryed into divers Chambers of the said Palaces, where they saw the things aforesaid as soone as they awaked: each of them having those Damosels to minister Meates and excellent Drinkes, and all varieties of pleasures to them; insomuch that the Fooles thought themselves in Paradise indeed. When they had enjoyed those pleasures foure or five dayes, they were againe cast in a sleepe, and carryed forth againe. After which, hee caused them to be brought into his presence, and questioned where they had beene, which answered, by your Grace, in Paradise, and recounted before all, all before mentioned. Then the old man answered, This is the commandement of our Prophet, that whosoever defends his Lord, he make him enter Paradise: and if thou wilt bee obedient to mee, thou shalt have this grace. And having thus animated them, hee was thought happie whom the old man would command, though it cost him his life: so that other Lordes and his Enemies were slaine by these his Assasines, which exposed themselves to all dangers, and contemned their lives. Hereupon hee was esteemed a Tyrant, feared in all those parts; and had two Vicars one in the parts of Damasco, and another in Curdistan: which observed the same order with young men. Hee used also to rob all which passed that way. Ulau in the yeare 1262 sent and besieged his Castle, which after three yeares siege they tooke, slue him and ruined his Paradise, not being able for want of victuall to hold out longer. (Purchas 1906xi: 207-209)
It is also from Purchas his pilgrimes that Coleridge may have derived his idea about the "ancestral voices prophesying war" (Naiam's rebellion):
In the yeare of our Lord 1286 his Uncle named Naiam, being thirtie yeares of age, and having the command of many people, and Countries, so that hee was able easily to bring together foure hundred thousand Horse. Being puffed up through youthfull vanitie, would now no longer be subject, but would needs take away the Kingdome from his Lord Cublai, and sent to another great Lord named Caydu, Lord of the parts towards great Turkie, who was nephew of the Emperour Cublai, yet hated him, who yeelding consent to Rebellion, promised to come in proper person with an hundred thousand Horse. / Both of them began to gather Forces, which could not bee done so secretly but Cublai heard of it, and presently tooke order to set guard to the wayes that no intelligence might passe that way: and then assembled all the Forces within ten dayes journey of Cambalu with great speed, so that in twentie dayes, were gathered together three hundred & sixtie thousand Horse, and one hundred thousand Foot, a great part of them Falconiers and men of his Houshold. With these hee made all haste day and night towards Naiams Countrey, where at the end of twentie five dayes he arrived, altogether unlooked for: and rested his men two dayes. Then hee called his Astrologers, and caused them before all the Armie to divine who should have victorie [the prophecy in Coleridge's poem] (a thing they alway use to incourage their men) and they promised it to Cublai. One morning whiles Naiam was sleeping negligently in his Tent, having not so much as sent out any scouts to espie, Cublai made shew of his Armie upon a hill to Naiams. Hee himselfe sate in a certaine Castle of wood, full of Archers and Crosse-bow men, borne by foure Elephants; on the top whereof was the Royall Standard with the Images of the Sunne and Moone. [...] The battels joyned and made a cruell fight, which continued from morning till noone: and then was Naiam taken and brought before Cublai [...]. The remainder of his people sware Obedience to Cublai [...]. (Purchas 1906xi: 234-235)
But why, one might ask, did Coleridge choose, of all the numberless rulers in Purchas's vast history, the Mongol Khan Kublai? We have suggested one possible reason, namely the fact that Kublai had the largest empire in history: circa 33 million kmI 2, attested for the year 1268, as opposed to the circa 36 million km2 of the British Empire, attested in 1922, under the reign of George V, therefore a long time after Coleridge's death.
Yet there may have been other reasons.
A crucial one may have been the following: Kublai was described by Marco Polo (and Purchas, who basically translated or paraphrased the latter's writings) as:
1) the ideal universal ruler;
2) the most remarkable emperor to have ever ruled on the face of the earth;
3) a most wise and righteous leader.
Besides, Coleridge may have known that Kublai was the unifier of China, although he was a nomad; and that, unlike his grandfather Genghis Khan, Kublai introduced the idea of "mercy" towards the conquered peoples, so much so that a city was now no longer massacred after it was defeated; Kublai thus proclaimed his dynasty under the name Ta Yuan, meaning "great origin," establishing his capital at Ta-tu or Da-du (meaning "great metropolis," "large/big capital"), i.e. today's Peking, with the fundamental intention to bring China back to its former status of the "center of the world." All these are facts that may have entered Coleridge's subliminal mind when he took his decision. Let us see what Coleridge read in Purchas his pilgrimes:
I purpose to write of all the great and marvellous Acts, of the present Can called Cublai Can, which is in our Tongue Lord of Lords, the greatest Prince in peoples, Cities and Treasures, that ever was in the world. Hee being discended from the Progenie of Chingis, the first Prince of the Tartars, is the sixth Emperour of that Countrey, beginning to raigne in the yeare of our Lord 1256, being twentie seaven yeares old, and ruling the people with great wisedome and gravitie. He is a valiant man, exercised in Armes, strong of bodie, and of a prompt minde for the performance of matters, before he attained to the dignitie of the Empire (which by his wisdome he did against the will of his Brethren) he often shewed himselfe a valiant Souldier in the warres, and carryed himselfe like a wiser and bolder Captaine, then ever the Tartars had. (Purchas 1906xi: 233-234)
Regarded in this light, Kublai Khan (even if Irving Babbitt surely would not agree) seems a most fit symbol for the romantic longing for exoticism and paradise city: Rome, which in the final analysis gave the name of romanticism, in this new stage of evolution is replaced by Xanadu--to which all roads of the romantic imagination led in Coleridge's new synthesis, just as Prometheus led the way towards the new Olympus in the version of the similar romantic synthesis offered by Lord Byron, P. B. Shelley and Mary Shelley. Xanadu became for Coleridge the new city on top of a hill, as it were, aspiring to become an earthly paradise both of the North and of the South (therefore in Blake's equation a new synthesis of both Imagination-North and Reason-South), the as-much-as-humanly-possible successful replica of Celestial City, the final destination of the romantic dreamer.
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Mihai A. Stroe, PhD, Dr Habil; Professor of Literature, University of Bucharest; Bucuresti, Romania; email@example.com.
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|Title Annotation:||p. 120-157|
|Author:||Stroe, Mihai A.|
|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2016|
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