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"Kubla Khan" and FF7: A Literary Analysis

by Raincrystal

I have always loved the poem "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. At first, I viewed it as a fantasy story, holding a marvelous treasure of secrets never revealed. The fact that it is unfinished lent an air of mystery to it, as though the unwritten part contained the answers to the universe, if only one could hear the end of the story.

In English class, we were taught another interpretation: that Xanadu represented the human mind, and Alph was the river of the unconscious, bursting out sometimes to inspire conscious thought and creativity. This opened me to new ways of thinking about the poem, and I tried to interpret it in many different ways.

Being as pathetically obsessed with FF7 as I am, I naturally attempted to draw some sort of connection-- and that was when it hit me. Although the poem was written two centuries before FF7 existed, it is a perfect description of Disc 1. The poem stops where Disc 1 stops, approximately halfway through the game. Perhaps I know the ending of the poem's story after all.

Here is "Kubla Khan," followed by my own FF7-related interpretation. Read it and draw your own conclusions. I'd love to hear what you think, so e-mail on this topic is welcomed with glee.

Kubla Khan

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798)

In 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 here 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 't would 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.

Interpretation
Kubla Khan

It begins with a description of the world...

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Xanadu is the Planet; Kubla Khan is President Shinra; the pleasure-dome he wants to build is the city of Midgar, where the upper class can live in comfort thanks to makou energy.

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Alph is the Lifestream, which runs through the northern caves; the sunless sea is the liquid Lifestream at the core of the Planet.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And here 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.

This is what the Midgar area was like before the city was built: a flourishing, vital spot teeming with makou energy-- doubtless why the President chose it. Ten miles' diameter is a reasonable estimate of Midgar's size, and it is certainly girdled with walls and towers.


But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!

This part is a description of the City of the Ancients, located in the chasm carved through the green hills by the river.

A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

This place sounds like Lucrecia's cave, where she waits silently, patiently, for Vincent to return to her. (In his Chaos form, he becomes a demon.)

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced;

This is the Lifestream bursting out from below ground, causing the Jenova reactor to malfunction (which in turn caused the investigation in Nibelheim five years before the game.)

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.

The Lifestream reaches out to touch the lives of the citizens of Nibelheim. As Sephiroth burns the town, many souls are sent to rejoin the Planet.


Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,

Sephiroth fell into the reactor, and was doubtless carried by the Lifestream river to the northern caves.

Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:

Upon reaching the northern caves, Sephiroth was frozen motionless in the crystals of ice.

And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

Even while this was happening, the Planet's defenses were beginning to gather: it cried out to the Ancients for help, and even the humans, deaf as they were to the call, began to see the need for change. AVALANCHE was formed, in hopes of fighting the Shinra company.

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves:

A reference to the floating city of Midgar, which is figuratively kept from collapse by the liquid makou flowing underground.

Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.

Virtually everything works because of makou energy, including TV, radio, even cars-- all the sounds of the city.

It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

This illustrates the complex connection between Midgar and the northern caves, from which the makou energy flows, and where Sephiroth is waiting.

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
This refers to Cloud's dream of Aeris, just before she runs off to the City of the Ancients. Cloud, being the main character, naturally speaks in first person. Aeris's "dulcimer" is her special ability to speak with the Planet.

It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.

Aeris tells the Planet that she is going back to the land of her ancestors, the Ancients' City.

Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 't would win me

This is a reflection on these last moments with Aeris. Cloud would be delighted to have her back with him.

That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

Cloud says that "She smiled to the end. We have to do something, or her smile will just freeze like that." It is the memory of Aeris which inspires him to keep on going, to try to save the Planet and the Lifestream despite all odds.

And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!

This is the dreaded event itself. Everyone watches in horror as Cloud lifts his sword to strike Aeris. Even as they call out to him to stop, they know something is terribly wrong. And then they look up.

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

Sephiroth descends.

Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,

A thrice-woven circle is an ancient holy charm against evil.

For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

A reference to the Jenova cells and makou within Sephiroth's body.

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