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HomePoems > Kubla Khan > Sources > James Bruce > 8. Floating hair                           



1. Approaching the source of the Nile

2. Source of the Nile

3. Another discovery of the source of the Nile

4. Nile twisting and turning

5. Abyssinia

6. Abola

7. Astaboras River

8. Floating hair

9. Prophecies of war


James Bruce

8. Floating hair

Why does Coleridge tell us to beware his floating hair?

Bruce accompanies the king of Abyssinia, Tecla Haimanout on a ride through the country. But the king's long hair gets caught in a tree branch, and he can only get free by taking off his cloak, debasing himself in public.

To recover his dignity, naturally, he kills the local leader, and his son.

Reason enough to fear someone with floating hair.

Lowes says:

That is not the sort of tale which one forgets. And with images of Tartary and Abyssinia already freely telescoping in the dream, it seems highly probable that some leap of association from Aloadine's assassins called up that sharp-etched picture of the ruthless Abyssinian king whose floating hair precipitated such a tragedy. 379


(The king) had desired me to ride before him, and shew him the horse I had got from Fasil….It happened that, crossing the deep bed of a brook, a plant of the kantuffa hung across it. I had upon my shoulders a white goat-skin, of which it did not take hold; but the king, who was dressed in the habit of peace, his long hair floating all around his face, wrapt up in his mantle, or thin cotton cloak, so that nothing but his eyes could be seen, was paying more attention to the horse than to the branch of kantuffa beside him; it took first hold of his hair, and the fold of the cloak that covered his head…in such a manner that…no remedy remained but he must throw off the upper garment, and appear…with his head and face bare before all the spectators.

This is accounted great disgrace to a king, who always appears covered in public. However, he did not seem to be ruffled…but with great composure, and in rather a low voice, he called twice, Who is the Shum of this district? Unhappily he was not far off. A thin old man of sixty, and his son about thirty, came trotting, as their custom is, naked to their girdle, and stood before the king….The king asked if he was Shum of that place? He answered in the affirmative, and added…that the other was his son.

There is always near the king, when he marches, an officer called Kanitz Kitzera, the executioner of the camp; he has upon the tore of his saddle a quantity of thongs made of bull's hide…this is called the tarade. The king made a sign with his head, and another with his hand, without speaking, and two loops of the tarade were instantly thrown round the Shum and his son's neck, and they were both hoisted upon the same tree, the tarade cut, and the end made fast to a branch. They were both left hanging…Bruce, IV, 65-67

Other sources

William Bartram
William Beckford
F. Bernier
Thomas Burnet
William Collins
Athanasius Kircher
Jerome Lobo
Thomas Maurice
John Milton
Samuel Purchas
Major James Rennell

Mary Wollstonecraft

Word Line # Line Sources for word
Abyssinian maid


It was an Abyssinian maid,

 Bruce 5
 Bruce 8
 Bruce 9
 Milton 6



Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover

 Bruce 1
 Bruce 8

Deep 12 But Oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted  Bruce 8
 Kircher 3
  44 To such a deep delight 'twould win me  Bruce 8
 Kircher 3
Eyes 50 His flashing eyes, his floating hair! Bruce 8
Seneca 2
  52 And close your eyes with holy dread Bruce 8
Seneca 2


Floated midway on the waves;

 Bernier 3
 Bruce 8



His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

 Bernier 3
 Bruce 3
 Bruce 8

Girdled 7 With walls and towers were girdled round  Bruce 8


His flashing eyes, his floating hair!

 Bruce 8

Long 45 That with music loud and long  Bartram 3
 Bernier 1
 Bruce 8


Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree

 Bartram 3
 Bernier 2
 Bruce 2
 Bruce 8
 Milton 2
 Milton 4
 Purchas 3



Ancestral voices prophesying war!

 Bruce 8


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