Listen With Others

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Listener No 4566, Dream On: A Setter’s Blog by Agricola

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 Aug 2019

Yes, it’s very self-indulgent to choose your favourite poems as puzzle themes, but this time I couldn’t resist.

The main challenge in this case was the enormous amount of potential thematic material: how to choose? The site of the Great Khan’s summer palace is in the Xilin Gol League of Inner Mongolia, long famous for its cretaceous fossil record, including the wonderfully named Gigantoraptor. Xanadu has also given its name to an ice continent on the Saturnian moon, Titan, photographed by the Cassini probe. Sadly, cramming the dinosaurs, methane rivers, and sunny spots of greenery into a single symmetrical grid proved to be too much of a challenge, and I settled on something more modest.

I do, however, have a confession to make. While researching the material for the theme, I realised how much poetic license Coleridge had taken, but I still decided to run with it. The poem was inspired by the writing of Samuel Purchas, who drew heavily on the account of Marco Polo: “In Xandu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace, encompassing sixteen miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure.”

Nowhere do either Purchas or Polo mention incense-bearing trees, and for a very good reason. The climate in Xilin Gol is extreme, and winter temperatures often fall below –20°C: with the possible exception of the spruce, none of the trees or shrubs in the puzzle would survive there. But still, it’s a great poem.


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