I’ve written a couple of times here previously about what’s been described as the Xanadu Effect. Edward Tenner, author of the paper entitled “The Xanadu Effect“, has this to say about his view of the origins of the word Xanadu:
Xanadu, you may recall, was the palatial centerpiece of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, the brilliantly unfair film biography of William Randolph Hearst. Welles borrowed the name (if not the caves of ice) from Coleridge and modeled the place after Hearst’s own grand folly, La Cuesta Encantada, or “The Enchanted Hill,” a neo-Hispanic latifundium overlooking San Simeon Bay in central California.
It became famous as Hearst Castle. (Its owner preferred to call it a “ranch.”) On its 24,000 acres were a 354,000-gallon swimming pool, a private zoo and four main buildings with a total of 165 rooms. Along with other such extravagances, the estate helped send Hearst into trusteeship late in life. The cavernous halls of Welles’ gloomy cinematic Xanadu seemed to filmgoers – as the real, happier building must have appeared to many Hearst Corp. public investors – the very image of the pride that goes before a fall.
I’ll come back to the Orson Welles / Citizen Kane / William Randolph Hearst angle, but for the moment, this is the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Or a Vision in a Dream. A FragmentIn Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure dome decree: Where Alph, the sacred river, ran Through caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea. So twice five miles of fertile ground With walls and towers were girdled round: And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery. But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover! A savage place! as holy and enchanted As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted By woman wailing for her demon lover! And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething, As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing, A mighty fountain momently was forced: Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail, Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail: And ’mid these dancing rocks at once and ever It flung up momently the sacred river. Five miles meandering with a mazy motion Through wood and dale the sacred river ran, Then reached the caverns measureless to man, And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean: And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far Ancestral voices prophesying war! The shadow of the dome of pleasure Floated midway on the waves; Where was heard the mingled measure From the fountain and the caves. It was a miracle of rare device, A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice! A damsel with a dulcimer In a vision once I saw; It was an Abyssinian maid, And on her dulcimer she played, Singing of Mount Abora. Could I revive within me Her symphony and song, To such a deep delight ’twould win me, That with music loud and long, I would build that dome in air, That sunny dome! those caves of ice! And all who heard should see them there, And all should cry, Beware! Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread, For he on honey-dew hath fed, And drunk the milk of Paradise.