Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge Summary and Analysis

Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge Summary and Analysis

Kubla Khan Poem

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!
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!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

About Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on October 21, 1772 in the remote Devon village, England. Hischildhood is marked byisolation and self-absorption. In addition feelings of anomie, unworthiness, and incapacity persisted throughout a life of often compulsive dependency on others.

Coleridge grew up surrounded by books at school, at home, and in his aunt’s shop. The dreamy child’s imagination was nourished by his father’s tales of the planets and stars and enlarged by constant reading.He became a prominent poet in the Romantic era.A friend to poet William Wordsworth, Coleridge was a founder of the English Romantic Movement. His best known poems are “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan,”

Analysis of the poem Kubla Khan

The poem describes about the palace built by Kubla khan’s grandson of Chengis Khan, the great ruler of central Asia. This poem is subtitled as ” A vision in Dream: A fragment”. This poem shows the beauty of a dream. The poet takes opium and falls into drowsiness while reading a passage about the court of Kubla Khan from Samuel Purchas’s “pilgrimage” after taking some opium. In this dream like state, he composed a few hundred linesof poetry and when he wakes up, he immediately wrote it down. Unfortunately a visitor interrupted him and when the poet had a chance to return to his writing, the images had fled leaving him with only vague recollections and the remaining 54 lines of thisfragmentary poem.The person who disturbed Coleridge has become a metaphor for the malicious interruptions the world throws in the way of inspiration and genius.

The poem is an example of pure poetry removed from any intellectual content. Romantics focused on emotions and not on intellectual and logical thoughts. Since it is a dream we cannot make clear meaning and cannot expect coherence and cohesion between the lines. Thus some critics argue that there are no themes in this poem as it cannot be understood as a whole rather each stanza talks about totally different ideas from the restof the poem.

Coleridge developed his ideas on the relationship between poetry and dreams throughout much of his lifetime. He was fascinated by the fact that a dreamer passes no judgement and accepts with full faith all that is happening within the dream. The aim of a poet is to create a state of illusion for the reader that is akin todreaming (O’Connell). She further says that “for a waking mind dreams often seems absurd and irrational”. This is exactly happening in this poem as well. Once readers finish reading this poem, they are in the state of illusion and left with confusion. Moreover some readers find it absurd as there is no connection between the lines and each stanza appears as a fragment.

Since this is a dream poem, it has many dream elements. Most striking dream element is symbolic language. He evokes familiar images like dome, river, caverns, sea, gardens, forests, fountain, etc and allows symbolic interpretation where there is a possibility for different interpretation. For example Kubla Khan in itself is an image which evokes exoticism and mystery. Moreover he stands for “power and authority”. “The fountain that bursts forth from beneath the earth readily suggests, in the context of the poem, the act of creating when the conscious poet changes ideas in the mind into words on the page, and inspiration when unconscious ideas become conscious, but can also suggest sexual intercourseor laboured birth” (Wheeler, 1981)

Coleridge has achieved what he calls the aim of a true poet by creating a state of poetic illusion akin to dreaming. He places his reader in a ‘charmed sleep,’ creating for him a waking-dream experience and it is through this artful balance and waking judgement that ‘Kubla Khan’ has its success as a dream poem.

Kubla Khan Themes

  • Poetic creativity
  • Power of human mind and imagination

Kubla Khan Literary techniques

  • Simile:
    • “huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail.” The fragments have been compared to pieces of hailstorm to show their impacts.
    • “Forests ancient as hills”
  • Personification:
    • “as if this earth in fast thick pant was breathing,” comparing the earth to a breathing human being.
    • “the dancing rocks.” Dancing is a human characteristic, but the poet has attributed this quality to rocks.
  • Metaphor: Here the
    • “deep romantic chasm” represents the creativity and deep imagination of the poet.
  • Assonance:
    • “deep delight”
    • “Through caverns measureless to man.”
  • Alliteration:
    • “sympathy and song.”
  • Imagery –althroughout the poem