Abstract. Xanadu, like its milk of paradise, has become something of a universal symbol of the romantic imagination. The present study proposes the following quest: understanding the romantic imagination – mainly in Paracelsus’, Pascal’s, Blake’s, Byron’s, Keats’s and Coleridge’s acceptations – by exploring the romantic story of Xanadu, as the paragon of the city of the imagination, anticipating science-fictional (e.g. Ecotopian) cities of the future. In Xanadu, imagination is unbound, a state of affairs reflected in the poetic city’s dome of pleasure, exuberant natural luxuriance, and milk of paradise: all these are ideas derived by Coleridge from Samuel Purchas’s translation and paraphrase of Marco Polo’s memories (from around 1275 and after) at the court of Kublai Khan. Today, Polo’s memoir is preserved in English through Henry Yule’s translation (cf. Polo 1871). In this quest, we soon understand that Coleridge’s Xanadu is a paradise of the imagination, a metaphorical earthly paradise, where mankind feeds on some kind of transcendental “food of the gods” (the “milk of paradise,” as Coleridge called it, refers most likely to physical and/or “spiritual” opium). Inside the romantic imagination (inside Xanadu), as in a perfect imaginative space, man experiences the simultaneity of all opposites, harmony and unbalance, order and disorder, depression and exuberance, the finite and the infinite, or Blake’s marriage of Heaven and Hell – all positives and negatives “married” in a “restless silence,” meant to heal the breach between all extremes, so lastly between life and death. It would appear that at some rare moments, Coleridge experienced such ecstasies, being helped by the use of opium (laudanum). There was, however, a price to be paid for the audacity: the very loss of his creative powers, as Abrams (1971a) sadly concluded. If opium initiated Coleridge to the exuberant colourful opium dreams, it unfortunately also forcefully married him to the hell of the depressive dark opium nightmares.
Key words: romantic imagination; Paracelsus; Pascal; Blake; Byron; Keats; Coleridge; milk of paradise; opium; Xanadu; gamma power

Stroe MA (2023) Romanticism, S. T. Coleridge and the origins of the Xanadu story. Creativity 6(2): 19–87. doi:10.22381/C6220232

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University of Bucharest,
Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures,
English Department;
Bucharest, Romania

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