Steven Morris*1 “In Somerset did Kubla Khan: Coleridge manuscript returns to poem’s source” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/mar/11/samuel-taylor-coleridge-kubla-khan-poem-manuscript-somerset
More than two centuries after Samuel Taylor Coleridge awoke from a drug-addled reverie – if the story is to be totally believed – to pen his great poem Kubla Khan, the only version of the work in the writer’s own hand has returned to the corner of south-west England that inspired him.
The unique manuscript is the centrepiece of a new exhibition on Coleridge at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton, close to the hills and valleys he and William Wordsworth roamed at the end of the 18th century.
Alexandra Ault, a lead curator at the British Library who is supervising the loan of the manuscript, said she was excited to see it on display in Somerset.
“It’s so amazing,” she said. “This is the only known manuscript of Kubla Khan written in Coleridge’s hand, but it does so much more than that. It raises as many questions as it answers. Bringing it to Somerset makes us think about Coleridge again and ask questions about him and the poem.”
At the end of the 18th century, Coleridge lived for three years at in a draughty, mouse-infested cottage in Nether Stowey, north of Taunton, where he wrote some of his most renowned poems including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and worked with Wordsworth on their collection of poetry Lyrical Ballads*6.
According to Coleridge, Kubla Khan was created in a farmhouse in the Somerset hamlet of Culbone*7 on the seaward slopes of Exmoor in the autumn of 1797. He claimed he was on one of his long rambles when he suffered an upset stomach.
Resting in a farmhouse, he said he took two grains of opium and fell into a reverie during which the fantastical world of Xanadu – the “stately pleasure dome”, the “caverns measureless to man” – emerged.
He woke and began writing the poem down but was interrupted by “a person on business from Porlock” [a town on the Somerset coast], which broke his flow, leaving him with only a “fragment” of the world that had appeared to him.
Ault said this manuscript – written in iron gall ink on blue notepaper – may have been written several years later for a Gloucestershire collector who had it in her possession by about 1804. The manuscript was sold after her death and was acquired by the British Library in 1962.
*1:See also https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20110823/1314126106 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20140924/1411572709 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20150121/1421863328 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20150213/1423759008 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20160221/1456018341 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20160630/1467251209 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20170524/1495594464 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20170919/1505839104
*2:See also https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20060516/1147746130 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20070502/1178032169 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20110310/1299783619 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20110530/1306777342 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20160315/1458053019 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20170807/1502079554 https://sumita-m.hatenadiary.com/entry/20170810/1502331557
*6:See National Trust “Three extraordinary years” https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/coleridge-cottage/features/three-extraordinary-years