Verses Composed Upon Reading A Review From TripAdvisor

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The Tourist Board of Xanadu
Did recently impose a fee
On those who travel far from home
To visit Kubla’s pleasure dome
Of $20, 9 to 3

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With fence and wire are girdled round
And signs proclaiming “ENTRY AT THE GATE”
Where gather many a camera-bearing crowd
And here are docents, who in solemn state
Explain the Mongol histories aloud

But oh! That deep romantic chasm protracting
Into a hill, athwart a cedarn cover
A savage region, visitors attracting
By actresses, forever reenacting
A woman wailing to her demon-lover

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil spilling
Crowds of old men in fat thick pants are milling
And there, a fountain momently is forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Groups of eight to ten people, screaming ever
White-water-raft upon the sacred river

Five miles continuing to a crashing climax
Through wood and dale the sacred waters run;
I didn’t think this part was too much fun,
So skip the crowds, and head down to the IMAX,
Where in surround-sound, you can hear from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Stands reflected in the mere;
Take some photos there to treasure
As a special souvenir
It is a miracle of rare device:
A tourist trap, but also pretty nice.

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!
Hide the sight from eyes profane,
And weave a circle round him thrice
For he hath tasted Paradise,
5/5, would taste again.

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28 Responses to Verses Composed Upon Reading A Review From TripAdvisor

  1. onyomi says:

    Very nice… If I were the type of person inclined to comment upon the weirdness of late capitalism I would comment upon the weirdness of assigning Yelp-like ratings to e.g. the Grand Shrine at Ise.

  2. ReaperReader says:

    Love the incorporation of contemporary life motifs into your poetry, you really make them flow.

  3. doug1943 says:

    Well done. Being the type of person to comment on the pleasures now available in post death-of-socialism, I hope that the Chinese government, motivated by the juicy profits to be earned by the increased tourist trade we get with an increasingly-wealthy capitalist world, will improve the facilities at Xanadu, catering for an increasingly well-educated world, which will not want tacky Disneylands but something like an authentic cultural experience.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Yeah but you know you’re just going to get a shrink-wrapped, fun-sized, individually-packaged, gourmet artisanal, self-serve, Authentic Culture Experience (TM).

    • Deiseach says:

      catering for an increasingly well-educated world, which will not want tacky Disneylands but something like an authentic cultural experience

      Which will be curated to within an inch of its life so as to appeal to those same tourists, and will thus be the equivalent of the tacky Disneyland but with a glossy facade of highbrow appeal.

      I generally have little patience for the notion of cultural appropriation, but that is it at work right there: the educated tourist demanding/expecting an experience that will live up to their expectations of what a quality experience should be, and so as Conrad Honcho says, the producers will deliver an Authentic Cultural Experience (Guaranteed Not Tacky) every bit as packaged as the low-brow model.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Yeah, I don’t know what an “authentic cultural experience” of ancient ruins looks like. They’re ruins. They’re not in use any more. The people who live there don’t have any meaningful modern connection to them.

        I remember when I was in Egypt and went to see the pyramids. My translator/guide took me to a guy who was almost certainly his cousin from whom I rented a camel named “Michael Jackson.” We rode through the Authentic Artisanal Slums (TM) of Giza to the pyramids, the grounds of which were littered with trash. You could walk right into the tombs (except the deep, unstable ones) and touch the hieroglyphics or make rubbings of them if you wanted. They weren’t roped off and they weren’t behind glass. There were no infographics explaining what anything was or what Daily Life in Ancient Egypt was like. There was no gift shop, restaurant, or bathrooms.

        It seems to me the least authentic thing about that experience was the camel, because I didn’t see anybody else riding camels. The Egyptians all had 30 year old Peugeots running on leaded gasoline and donkeys. The rest of it was…authentic, I guess.

        What would you do to improve the authentic experience of visitors to the pyramids? Put a wall around them? With a ticket counter and turnstiles? A Visitor Center, with tours starting on the half-hour, or an audio tour for $8.99? Rope off the exhibits and add some authentic infographics? Actors wandering around in ancient egyptian costumes, role-playing with the guests and posing for pictures? If you get peckish stop by King Tut’s Tavern (try the Great Sphinx Shawarma)? On your way out, buy a papyrus scroll with your name written on it in authentic hieroglyphics hand-painted by one of our authentic scribes.

        I mean, that’s what would happen, but I don’t know what the “authentic cultural experience” of that looks like, besides driving a 30 year old Peugeot through the slums to wander around the ruins.

        • bja009 says:

          The Egyptians all had 30 year old Peugeots running on leaded gasoline and donkeys.

          I’m now imagining a 30-year-old Peugeot running on a gasoline/donkey combo. Now I need to visit Giza.

        • Hoffnung says:

          What you just described sounds pretty OK actually.

        • Toby Bartels says:

          I agree with Hoffnung; this is the kind of experience that I like, and I'm actually a bit surprised that the pyramids aren't already like this. (Except for the wall and the turnstile with ticket booths, which would keep the poor locals out of their own neighborhood historical site. Unfortunately, I realize that the wall and the turnstile with ticket booths are what would pay for all the rest of it! Maybe free admission on Tuesdays would help.)

  4. scmccarthy says:


    When I was a child, my grandmother gifted me a pop-up book that was just this poem with weird illustrations. I thought it was really cool, and it stuck with me. This is a wonderful homage.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      Saying ‘gifted’ instead of ‘gave’ here seems appropriate for a children’s pop-up book featuring a high-brow poem with adult themes. For her birthday, my toddler was recently gifted with a Pride-and-Prejudice counting book (containing such pages as ‘4 marriage proposals’), which is as much a gag gift for the parents as a real gift for the kid, and I wonder if your pop-up book was similarly intended.

  5. James says:

    I always think ‘pleasure dome’ is such an unfortunate phrase in that poem.

  6. theternalone says:

    One of the old favourites–and one of the first few poems I memorized ages ago.

  7. Silverlock says:

    I tried to read it all, but a pop-up ad from the Porlock Chamber of Commerce kept getting in the way.

  8. lostresearchers says:

    I read a book recently (“How to Read Poetry Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster). It said poems are meant to be read comma to comma instead of pretending there is a comma at the end of every line (among other things). For future poems, you may write commas at the end of every line to encourage this practice rather than it being read in the meter without commas written.

  9. Irein says:

    And perhaps, if Auden had joined the trip:

    She planned on her computer
    For hidden costs and fees,
    For hiring a private driver
    And gas stations where one could pee,
    But there by the desolate highway
    The tourist board put instead
    An artificial Kublai Khan
    Under a sky like lead.

    A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
    No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
    Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
    Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
    An unintelligible decrepitude,
    A souvenir shop, grown dusty over time,
    And “we sell postcards” written on a sign.

    • dick says:

      Inspired by but not related:

      Two roads diverged in a yellow suburb,
      And sorry I could not travel both
      And be one traveler, long I stood
      And looked down the one which showed on Google Maps
      as the best route to get to Applebees:

      Then took the other, as just as fair,
      and having perhaps the better claim,
      Because it showed a quicker ETA
      After I hit the “avoid tolls” icon;
      Though as the alternate route showed
      They were reallly about the same.

      And both that morning equally lay
      with bright green lines, indicating little traffic.
      Oh, I kept the first for another day!
      Yet knowing how infrequently my team meets for happy hour,
      I doubted if I should ever come back.

      I shall be telling this with a sigh
      When I get to my coworker Stacy’s going away party:
      Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
      I took the one not selected by default,
      And that has made all the difference.

  10. RyanM says:

    Look on my very reasonably priced souvenirs, ye Mighty, and despair!

  11. Enkidum says:

    5/5, would taste again is fucking brilliant.

  12. aeolian says:

    I tip my hat to you, sir.

  13. Noumenon72 says:

    I stopped reading this in the first stanza because I read it as “$20, 9 minus 3” and I was like “That’s not poetry, it doesn’t scan and doesn’t seem clever.” When I came back and read it as “9 to 3” (pm), I was fine with it and finished the poem.

  14. ksvanhorn says:


    How much laudanum did this one require?

  15. statsguru says:

    You’re not the first person to re-imagine Xandau:

  16. paleobias says:

    Alas, ‘twould be impossible to taste the paradise, due to the sunny dome closing shop at exactly the time all the tourists arrive from the nearest hotel

  17. Gregor Sansa says:

    I wandered lonely as a cloud
    When sun emoji marks the hour,
    And all at once I saw a crowd,
    A host, of pretty yellow flowers;
    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    I made a clip, as if for Vine,
    With lens flare filter, all the way;
    They stretched in never-ending line
    Along the margin of a bay:
    Ten thousand saw I on my screen.
    For music, I put “Dancing Queen”.

    The waves beside them danced; but they
    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
    My friends all know I’m super gay,
    So flowers fit well on my feed.
    I gazed—hit “post”—but little thought
    What wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie
    Just scrolling through that endless feed,
    A “1” pops up to catch my eye
    And that alert I click to read;
    Another like/repost; again,
    More dopamine runs through my brain.

  18. theredsheep says:

    When I was in elementary school, around fourth grade, I had an assignment to write a poem about my favorite place. Since I wasn’t a going-places kind of kid (but was a wise-ass kind of kid), I wrote about the back of the family-room couch, where my brothers were accustomed to just chucking the trash from food they ate while watching TV. I vaguely remember lines like “old soda bottles erupting with worms.” My teacher was delighted, and took to reading it at conferences on education and creativity and suchlike. My mother was present at one of these conferences, and my teacher introduced her as the mother of this boy who wrote the disgusting-couch poem.

    My mother wasn’t terribly proud of it for some reason.

  19. Gregor Sansa says:

    This classic from making light is worth reposting:

    I that in heill wes and gladnes
    Am trublit now with great sicknes
    My sicklie stait is no surprise:

    Death sovran is of all the tubez,
    Of rich, of poor, of l33t, of n00bz;
    No mortal shal escaip his eyis:

    Al flesh is dust; we are but bones;
    Baith knight and maid he freely pwns;
    Against his glanse brooks no disguyse;

    He draws al to his dark bucket;
    Whoe’er ye be, ye’re surely f***kit;
    The Walrus wil not sympathise;

    Our base are al belong to Death
    And have done since our natal breath
    (This point I’d like to emphasise):