The Road to Xanadu; Answers to Correspondents

Daily Mail (London), May 5, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Road to Xanadu; Answers to Correspondents


Byline: JAMES BLACK;CHARLES LEGGE

QUESTION

Where is Kubla Khan's Xanadu believed to have been, and where were the Alph, the sacred river, and the sunless sea?

THE poem Kubla Khan, published in 1816, was written by one of the great English Romantic poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

He was born in Otterley St Mary, Devon, in 1772, the youngest son of the local vicar. His father died when Samuel was nine and he was sent to Christ's Hospital, the famous charity school in London, shortly afterwards.

A highly intelligent boy, he went up to Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1791, intending to take holy orders.

There, he began to share the ideas of the French Revolution and became involved in drink, drugs and unsuitable women. He did not finish his degree.

Gradually, he became addicted to opium, a legal substance at that time, and it was supposedly while he was in an opium-induced trance that he wrote Kubla Khan.

The great emperor Kublai Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan He ruled the Mongols from 1260 to 1294 and was the founder of the Chinese Yuan Dynasty in 1271. He proclaimed his capital to be Dai Du (Beijing) the following year, but to escape the excessive summer heat, he built a second capital in the hills north of Beijing which he named Shang Du (Xanadu).

Chinese archaeologists believe they have located Xanadu, using aerial photography, at Zhenglan Banner in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, but their study is ongoing.

The great Venetian explorer Marco Polo visited Xanadu in 1275 and he later described palaces made of marble, with the rooms gilded and painted, and the palaces were so exquisite that people derived both visual and mental satisfaction from them. It was destroyed in a peasant war on the demise of the Yuan dynasty in 1368.

Coleridge probably based the river Alph in the poem on the Alpheus, the longest river in the Peloponnesus, which rises in the Taygetus Mountains in Greece.

From there it flows northwards through a series of deep gorges, past the sacred site of Olympus, before flowing into the Ionian sea.

According to Greek mythology, the river was supposed to flow under the sea, to finally emerge in the fountain of Arethusa at Syracuse in Italy (hence, in Coleridge's poem, the river runs 'Through caverns measureless to man/Down to a sunless sea'). This was the same river that Hercules cleverly diverted to cleanse the stables at Augeas.

One might speculate that in his drugged state, Coleridge's geographical knowledge was somewhat blurred and he imagined a Greek river of mythological fame flowing secretly through an ancient, mighty city in Asia.

Coleridge saw out his last days in Highgate, North London, at the home of a surgeon, James Gillman, who continued to treat him for opium addiction until the poet died on July 25, 1834. He was originally buried at Old Highgate Chapel, but his remains were reinterred under the aisle of St Michael's Church, Highgate, in 1961.

His grave is concealed beneath a slab, on which is inscribed the ten-line epitaph he wrote for himself shortly before his death. It includes: 'O, lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C.' Ian R. Lowry, Reading.

QUESTION Why aren't Beatles records featured on Apple ITunes (particularly as their record label was Apple)?

THE Beatles records are managed by a company called Apple Corps Ltd (the name was a pun on 'core' and 'corps') which was founded in 1968. The label Apple Records, which features a green Granny Smith apple as its logo, was a subsidiary company.

Apple iTunes is owned by Apple Computer which was started on April 1, 1976.

Its logo was originally a rainbow-coloured apple with a bite-sized chunk missing. …

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