“Xanadu” by Rush

The lyrics to Xanadu are taken from the poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


According to Coleridge, the poem came to him in a dream after reading about the summer palace of the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan and then taking opium.

It’s a very trippy poem and a very trippy song.  The theme of the song is a paradise similar to Eden where  the protagonist can “taste anew the fruits of life/the last immortal man” and “dine on honeydew/and drink the milk of paradise.”

The song doesn’t talk of a community or of other people but it can be inferred that one of the utopian themes of this song is ecology: beautiful, rich, fertile nature unspoiled by the touch of mortal man.

In this paradise he will become immortal.  However, when the protagonist finds it, he is the only one there.  While the utopia doesn’t exactly become a dystopia, (Can you have a dystopia that consists of one person?) it becomes a nightmare because the protagonist “taste my bitter triumph/ as a mad immortal man/nevermore shall I return/Escape these caves of ice”

In Eden there were two people, Adam and Eve and it was paradise because they were immortal together.  In “Xanadu” by Rush the person has gone mad because he is an immortal man all alone.

This songs talks about the quest for utopia and a mythical promised land where people become immortal and the dangers of being the only one who finds it.

Utopias are meant to be a communities and you can’t have a community of one.

4 thoughts on ““Xanadu” by Rush

  1. After reading over the lyrics, I can see how the song does shift from utopian to dystopian… It seems that in the beginning, the protagonist is seeking the sacred river Alph and immortality… and then once he gets it, doesn’t want it anymore because he is all alone.

    AND I really like that you say a utopia is meant to be a community because it is supposed to be. It is human nature to need to interact with other living beings!

  2. I agree with Anjelica, fully. I see this in light of the “hero in utopia” theme we were talking about in class. Classically, the hero gets to a utopia of pleasure and rejects it. But here the hero is trapped! Poor hero.

    I take small exception to the song be called “trippy.” It is literary and imaginative and deeply layered–but, especially in light of its relation to the poem that it is based on–isn’t the message actually that it is dangerous to get lost in your own dream world because life will pass you by–here on an epic scale.

    Robin, thank you for finding this video. As you probably figured out, Rush is a pretty deep old favorite band of mine. This is exactly the version on “Exit Stage Left” that I played over and over again when I was younger than any of you. For me the most utopian aspect of the song is seeing three guys working together to produce a really intricate piece of music without any back-up players.

    Well, I hate to do this, but there is another musical version of the Xanadu myth that was out in very nearly the same time period. Please, please, please, do not click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWeJ9p42ufg

    (I think I actually saw this in the theater with my family.)

  3. That shift in the lyrics from utopia to dystopia reminds me of a lot of the works of fiction we were talking about in class (the Uglies Trilogy, to name only one example). A lot of these utopian works start out with a seemingly perfect world on the surface, but after some digging through the layers we find that something is dangerously wrong. The perfect world ends up being not a neutral one, but the total opposite: a nightmare-ish dystopia.

    I liked the comparison to Eden. Even though Adam had all of the animals in the world to keep him company, he was still alone and needed the companionship of another human, Eve. What’s ironic about their utopia of two is that Eve, the much-needed helper of Adam, was the one who first sinned by eating the fruit and ultimately caused them both to be kicked out of paradise. Community is necessary for utopia, but in a weird twist it worked against them here.

  4. I agree with the others in their connection of the shift from utopia to dystopia that we so often see as the hero in utopian/dystopian literature. I also agree with your connection to the ecology aspect as the song almost brings out an eden-like effect. I also love that you say that utopias are meant to be communities! You can see in many dystopian works the protagonist separated in some way from the rest of the population/world/community and the frustration and distress it causes.

    Great choice!

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