Purchas his Pilgrimage; or, Relations of the World and the Religions


The source for the beginning of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘Kubla Khan’ came to him through Samuel Purchas’s book Purchas his Pilgrimage. He wrote in the preface to Sybilline Leaves (1816) that he was reading it when he fell asleep. The words ‘In Xamdu did Cublai Can build a stately palace …’ stayed in his head. However, Coleridge noted this several years after the poem’s composition, and there are considerable doubts that his dating of the composition (1797) is correct. 

Coleridge also knew Purchas’s Pilgrimes (1625), which mentions Cublai Can and his palace at Xandu. This text has a more extensive description of the site. It is described (p. 80) as:

A marvellous and artificial Palace of Marble and other stones … He included sixteen miles within the circuit of the wall … In this inclosure or Parke are goodly Meadowes, springs, rivers, red and fallow Deere, Fawnes carried thither for the Hawkes … In the middest in a faire Wood hee hath built a royall House on pillars gilded and varnished, on every of which is a Dragon all gilt, which windeth his tayle about the pillar, with his head bearing up the loft, as also with his wings displayed on both sides; the cover also is of Reeds gilt and varnished … The house itself may be sundred, and taken downe like a Tent and erected again. For it is sustained, when it is set up, with two hundred silken cords. 

The description of the palace is vivid, and provides a visual context for how Coleridge imagines the palace of Xanadu.

Full title:
Purchas his Pilgrimage; or, Relations of the World and the Religions observed in all ages
1613, London
Samuel Purchas
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Travel, trade and the expansion of the British Empire

Article by:
Jim Watt
Travel, colonialism and slavery, Politics and religion

In the 17th century, London was at the centre of global trade, with goods and individuals arriving in the capital from all over the world. Jim Watt looks at how travel, trade and empire shaped the works of Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Josiah Wedgwood, Oliver Goldsmith and Ignatius Sancho.

An introduction to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Article by:
Seamus Perry

Dr Seamus Perry describes the origins of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and considers how Coleridge uses the poem to explore ideas of sin, suffering and salvation.

An introduction to Kubla Khan: or A Vision in a Dream

Article by:
Seamus Perry

Dr Seamus Perry considers the composition and publication history of Kubla Khan, and explores how Coleridge transforms language into both image and music.

Related collection items

Related works

'Kubla Khan'

Created by: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), published 1816. Coleridge composed ‘Kubla Khan; Or, A Vision in ...