Kubla Khan Poem by S.T. Coleridge

Kubla Khan Poem by S.T. Coleridge

About the poet

Samuel Taylor Coleridge(1772-1834), a famous romantic poet was born in Ottery St Mary Devon. He was a lyrical poet, literary critic, and philosopher. He and his friend William Wordsworth were among the founders of the Romantic Movement in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

He was called a Lake Poet because he lived in the Lake District in Cumbria, England. His famous poems include The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, and Kubla Khan. He is known for his presentation of supernatural elements.

Summary / Main Idea of the poem Kubla Khan

The supreme strength of Coleridge lays in his marvelous dream faculty. Kubla Khan and its origin in a dream which Coleridge had dreamt in a sleep induced by opium. Actually, he was reading Purchase's Pilgrimage, a book relating to the Khan Kubla and the palace that he commanded to be built.

When he woke up from the dream, he had a discreet recollection of the dream, he took his pen and instantly wrote down the lines that he had dreamt. At this time of composition, he was called out by a person on business and detained by him for about an hour.

On his return to his room, he found that the rest of his dream had passed away from his memory and that he could not finish the poem. The poem itself is an edifice of dreams. It is emancipation from a dream socked imagination and does precession of images colored in rainbow tints. 

Much of the poem seeks to be pure romance and dream. Kubla Khan is one of Coleridge's most well-known poems. It is about the first Mongol Emperor of China who was famous for his pomp and show. Through this poem, Coleridge describes the sovereign authority of Kubla Khan.

This poem is divided into two parts. The first part is based on the magnificent palace which Kubla Khan ordered to be built. He ordered the construction of a grand palace for his personal enjoyment at a place called Xanadu. 

The sacred river Alph flowed there through very deep caves and fell into a sunless sea. An area of about ten miles around the palace was surrounded by walls and towers. It contained the fascinating scenery of Nature. There were thick forests on mountain slopes.

Its gardens were green and bright with winding streams. Sweet-smelling trees were growing there in abundance. There was a deep romantic gap situated on the slope of a green hill and covered by tall cedar trees. It was such a holy and awful place.

It was visited by a woman, under declining moon wailing for her demon lover. The strange gap seemed to contain a powerful fountain. With short intervals, water and stones rose from there and made an arc in the air. It seemed as if the earth were discharging its breath in great agitation.

The sacred river, ran down five miles through woods and valleys till it reached the dark sea. In this roaring noise of the fountain and the river, Kubla Khan heard the voices of his militant ancestors coming from far predicting war. The shadow of his palace fell upon the waves of the river.

This sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice was indeed a miraculous device. In the second part of the poem, Coleridge describes that he saw an Abyssian girl playing upon her musical instrument once in a dreamy vision. She was singing in praise of the sacred mount Abora.

Her song and music were so bewitching that even the memory of her sweet melody could recall the whole scene before his eyes. All those who heard that music could see the dome and its caves of ice.

Those people would be filled with fear and respect due to the poet's strange condition. They would believe that he had certainly eaten some heavenly food. This poem exhibits a keen observation of the composer. There are sensuous words, phrases, and pictures in Kubla Khan.

The excellent vast gardens, the aroma-bearing trees with sweet blooming, the sunny parts of greenery, rocks creating a noise like rebounding hail, and the sunless caverns are purely sensuous and romantic. Even the music and symphony of the poem, the picture of the divinely inspired poet is highly romantic and wonderful.

In this poem, Coleridge creates an atmosphere of mystery and supernatural phenomena with artistry. Although Kubla is not a complete poem yet still some phrases in the poem collective give to it an atmosphere of supernatural.

The caverns are measureless to men, a sunless sea, a woman wailing for her demon-lover, the high fountain forced momently from the romantic chasm. These are all touches that create a supernatural atmosphere. But the description is so precise and vivid that no sense of unreality is displayed. 

The chant-like, musical incantation of Kubla Khan result from Coleridge's masterful use of iambic tetrameter and alternating rhyme schemes. The poem, Kubla Khan is a work of pure fancy and the result of sheer imagination. The dream-like atmosphere of the poem is highly romantic. 

Explanation and Reference to Context

Lines 1-2

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan 
A stately pleasure-dome decree

Reference and Context

These lines have been taken from the poem Kubla Khan by S.T.Coleridge. In this poem, Coleridge narrates his dream in which Kubla Khan, the Emporer of China ordered to construct a grand and splendor palace for him, in Xanadu, near the sacred river Alph.

The palace was to be built, in an imaginary place Xanadu. It was to be constructed with bright gardens, winding streams, and forests as old as hills. The most wonderful sight of the pleasure-dome was its sunny spots and caves of ice.

It was an enchanting magical and unique site with ancient forests and hills. All the natural scenes were mysterious around the palace. The poet has described the grandeur of the palace in a very romantic and fantastic style.

Explanation

In these lines, Coleridge tells that in china Kubla Khan, a ruler of the Mongol Empire lived during the  13th century A.D. His kingdom was famous for wealth and mystery to Europe when Marco Polo first wrote about his travels there; throughout the poem, Coleridge creates a sense of exotic and mystery.

The second line presents Kubla Khan's power, as he orders to build a splendid palace for himself. It describes many contrasts like the word, stately that conveys the splendor and majesty of Kubla Khan's creation. It is paired with the idea of a pleasure-dome, an exotic and place of leisure.

The opening lines presenting the images of the poem bear beautiful similarities to the following quotation from Purchas Pilgrimage that Coleridge was reading immediately before he drifted into his deep sleep.

Lines 3-5

WhereAlph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation 

Here Kubla Khan selects that a pleasure-dome on the site of a sacred river should be built that Coleridge calls the Alph. He selects a unique name Alph that has no existence in the real life, the name itself suggests or has the connotation of a beginning.

This is because Alph is so similar to Alph, the first letter of the Greek alphabet which has as an alternate meaning, beginning. Coleridge, like many poets, does experiment with language and invents words to give added guides to meaning.

Critics have also compared the Alph with such different rivers as the Nile. It is noted that the word river is always accompanied by the adjective, sacred. Rivers and water are thought to be life-giving, Alph may be seen as a symbol of life. It flows beyond man's reach into a series of underground caves. 

Measureless to man conveys caverns that man can not physically map and areas beyond the reach of his full comprehension. The river has a final destination, the sunless sea, a place without light and life, therefore, shows complete contrast to the earlier effect of the river.

Lines 6-7

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, Coleridge takes initiative in the construction of Khan's kingdom. Ten miles of exceptionally rich land are enclosed behind a wall with towers to protect it. The pleasure dome is not for the public or a public sight that everyone can see it. It is a private domain and possession. This makes it quite distinct from the poet's creation.

Lines 8-11

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

Reference to Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, the poet describes the beauty of Kubla Khan's palace. He says that the palace is enclosed with a wall and inside the wall, there are fine gardens. The planted gardens or cultivated areas are designed by humans. 

Decorated areas with brightly colored flowers and sweet-smelling trees, watered by numerous winding brooks which branch off from the sacred river. These gardens are put among old forests which have been there as long as the land itself.

The river and forests provide an ageless concept for Kubla Khan's dream. Coleridge sees the difference between Kubla Khan's planned property and nature's realm but both exist in a harmonious balance. Here part of the ground is covered with forest.

Lines 12-14

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover
A savage place! as holy and enchanted

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, the poet describes that a deep, marvelously beautiful gorge ran down the green slope of the hill sheltered by tall cedar trees on either side. It is a strange and romantic place. 

The last line describes the strangeness of the place. This is not an artificial or man-made place. It is untreated by cultivation and civilization, magic, and even blessed with a spot that exists outside of man's understanding. 

It looks magical and dreadful. When sacred and enthralling are combined together in this description, they convey a sense of the atheist, pagan, and supernatural elements. 

Lines 15-16

As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, Coleridge uses an image as a simile to show the distance of this site from Kubla Khan's encompassing and imposing gardens. The waning moon presents that period as the moon decreases from full, so less and less of it is visible. 

Thus, this mysterious chasm is compared to a spot haunted, by a woman crying in anguish, as the moonlight diminishes for her demon-lover. The woman comes there under the decreasing moon. She cries and calls her ghost lover to come and meet her.

There is no relationship between human beings and the supernatural world that would be possible in the balanced garden of Kubla Khan. It could only exist in the passionate and supreme upheaval of the chasm.

Lines 17-19

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing
A mighty fountain momently was forced;

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, the poet describes that strange and imaginary place where Kubla Khan's palace is constructed. There is a deep and wide gap on the slope of the green hill. 

The chasm is mysterious and pictured in constant turbulence, very different from the garden's calm. From this chasm or gap, a powerful fountain springs up in regular intervals. It seems as if the earth is breathing.

Lines 20-22

Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

The given lines elaborate the power of the fountain pouring forth the river is clear and apparent as huge stones are tossed up with the water. Two similes are used to illustrate this force. 

At the start, the huge boulders of stones are compared to hail. The second makes them seem even lighter. The poet uses the word thresher, a machine that separates the useful, heavier part of a kernel of grain from its lighter, useless shell or chaff.

The kernel drops down immediately into a container and the chaff is blown away by the wind when the grain is hit with a flail.  Soon the fountain seems as if the earth is breathing out bubbling water and stones which rose like chaff under the thresher.

Lines  23-28

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:

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

These lines show that the site of Kubla Khan's palace is very fascinating as well as dreadful. There the Alph river flows down five miles through forest and valleys on a winding course. Here poet reveals all the contradictions in the river path.

Along with the boulders, the river emerges. In the poem, the similies of boulders as images that involve striking. Here hail hits the earth and the thresher hits the grain. The tone of these lines shows turmoil and upheaval.

When the rocks leave the chasm, they are stated again in the poem while using a gentler metaphor as dancing rocks. The phrase of dancing rocks also presets an example of personification where inanimate objects are attributed with human features. 

After its tumultuous and noisy start, the river slowly takes a strolling and winding path passing through the gardens. In the end, the river falls into a dark and dull sea with a great noise. These lines are creating noise that is sweet to the ears.

Lines 29-30

And mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

These lines tell that from the falling sound of the river into the sea, he is hearing the voices of his militant forefathers. They are predicting temporary life. The great tumult of the river gives a warning that human creations are temporary. They can not be permanent. 

Ancestors' voices provide proves to the fact that the greatest creations of the world eventually come to destruction. Thus, too, the splendid dome has a threat of destruction of war. The strange voices express to him that a bloody war is coming soon and he must keep himself ready. 

Lines 31-34

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation 

In these lines, the poet describes the beauty of Kubla Khan's palace. The poem takes a turn to the part of the earthly paradise that Kubla Khan has constructed. He gave it the name of pleasure-dome. However, in these lines, it is not seen directly but merely as a shadow.

Now the contrasting elements, the turmoil of the fountain, and the caverns' message seem to overshadow the dome's image warning that man's creation is transitory.

Lines 35-36

It was a miracle of rare device
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

Coleridge ends the first part of the poem here explaining Kubla Khan and his world. He describes that the palace as a rare masterpiece of art. It has a bright shining sun as well caves of ice around it. It is nothing short of a miracle. 

Here the poet presents harmony among opposing forces. His majestic and miraculous palace that has since vanished without a trace, the sun and ice are opposite to each other.

Lines 37-38

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

Here the poet himself is the subject in the poem when Kubla Khan's, the protagonist intends the physical creation according to the poet's images. In his flight of imagination, he recounts the vision of a young girl playing a stringed musical instrument.

The poem transfer from the third person to the first person. The meter of the poem also becomes even more regular as the poem takes a  turn to the light. There is an upbeat tempo of iambic tetrameter throughout these lines.

Lines 39-41

It was an Abyssian maid,
And on her dulcimer she play'd
Singing of Mount Abora

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

The poet describes an Abyssinian girl. She is a young girl and singing a song with a musical instrument. She is singing in praise of a sacred mountain called Abora. Here Abyssinia is another name of Ethiopia. Mount Abora like Alph is a name that Coleridge has created. Many critics note the similarity of Alph with Mount Amara in Milton's Paradise Lost. 

No details of the vision are given to the readers and no images are given for them. The reader can assume that Mount Abora is similar to Kubla Khan's pleasure-dome only because the poet states that it creates such deep meaning.

Lines 42-45

Could I revive within me?
Her symphony and song
To such a deep delight, would win me,
That with music loud and long

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

The poet expresses his wish to hear the sweet music and song of Abyssinia's maid. The phrasing of these lines is unusual. The word Could is used as a conditional verb here and the entire sentence becomes speculation. 

If the poet can restore his dream, he would create a visionary paradise; the beauty of his dream will change the poet to enable him to use the music of his poem to construct with words what Kubla Khan had built in his land. The poem is ended unanswered whether the poet would be able to capture that dream.

Lines 46-48

I would build that dome in the ai,r
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, the poet describes the power of a successful poetic vision. He can easily recall that bright building alongside caves of ice in his imagination. Even he will not renew his vision, but he can convey it to all who hear or who read his words. This serves as a contrast to the Khan's pleasure -dome, bound by walls, and not meant for all to use.

Lines 49-52

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair
Weave a circle around him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, The poet describes his own feelings after going through his wonderful experience. He says that all those around him are wary of him because he is caught in a kind of enchantment or madness during his vision.

They would also warn about the wild condition of the poet. His eyes would glitter strangely and his hair would float in the air. Someone should draw a circle around him there times to keep him under control. This awful scene would force others to shut their eyes.

His eyes glitter in a frenzy of creativity, like that of the sacred river comes from a place similar to the chasm described earlier, a place sacred and enchanted, pagan yet blessed. This idea of Coleridge being possessed by his vision is not new to him. The Greeks also have a belief that creativity was a type of momentary insanity.

Lines 53-54

For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise

Reference and Context

Same as for the lines 1-2

Explanation

In these lines, the poet describes his condition after listening to the song of that Abyssinian girl. He says that he appears to be a different creature after listening to the music of that girl. It seems to him that he has tasted the food of Paradise. The scene drawn in this poem is not real at all.

The image of honey-dew refers to the sweet honey that some flowers like honeysuckle, produce in the summer. The other word for this is nectar that is known as a food of goods, the vision of the poet when he achieves his dream can combine the chasm and the gardens and taste of Paradise.

Important Questions and Answers

Question 1

Discuss Kubla Khan as a romantic poem.
Discuss the poem as a fantasy.

Answer

The poem Kubla Khan is regarded as the masterpiece of romantic poetry. It takes us into the imaginary land of Xanadu. Its beauty and grandeur are unmatched. 

It is a beautiful, rich, and fertile land full of unheard-of unseen delight. The poet sees in his dream that Kubla Khan has ordered to build his grand palace. It was situated where the sacred river Alph flowed. 
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan     A stately pleasure-dome decree
Like all other great romantic poets, Coleridge is also a lover of nature. The palace of Kubla Khan is surrounded by hills and green spots. The world of Xanadu is really full of green spots. There is no boundary of the area, no opposition, no worries, and cares.
And there were forests ancient as the hills  
 Enfolding sunny spots of greenery

Again, to take another example of the romantic element, amid the tumult that the Alph makes while sinking into a selfless ocean, Kubla Khan heard from far Ancestral voices prophesying war. 

The dreamy atmosphere and the wild natural scenery give a touch of romance to this poem. This romance becomes so charming with the melody of the young girl. It takes us away from the fever and fret of the real world. And we find ourselves entered into a magic world. 

A damsel with a dulcimer     In a vision once I saw

The poem Kubla Khan has some phrases that collectively give the atmosphere of the world of enchantment. The caverns measureless to man, sunless sea, and a woman wailing for her demon-lover are the beautiful phrases. 

Reference to distant lands and far-off places emphasize the romance of Kubla Khan, Xanadu, Alph, Mount Abora belong to the geography of romantic atmosphere.

There are supernatural occurrences, references to remote times, mystery, aesthetic images, and the idea of poetic creativity that is a romantic concept of poetry. So we can conclude that the poem is a pleasant mixture of imagination, fantasy, and romance.

Question 2

Write a note on the splendor of Kubla Khan's court.
Write a note on the pleasure dome built by Kubla.

Answer

Kubla Khan was the Mongol emperor in the 13th century. He was famous in his country. In this poem, Coleridge has drawn an imaginary picture of Kubla Khan's court of pleasure dome. 

Kubla Khan had ordered a splendid palace to be built on the bank of the river Alph, so ten miles of ground were enclosed with huge walls and towers. The palace was full of flowers and sweet-smelling plants. 

But the most beautiful thing was the deep chasm near this fountain flowed Alph. This sacred river flowed through woods and valleys for five miles and then fell into an underground and immeasurable ocean with a great noise.

In the midst of this tumult, Kubla Khan heard the voices of his forefathers. They asked him to leave his luxurious ease and prepare himself for war. There could also be heard strange music coming from the pleasure-dome. The poet says that once in a dream, he saw an Abyssinian girl singing of Mount Abora.

The poet thinks that if he could recall to his mind the same music again, he would be able to build in the air a beautiful palace like that of Kubla. But people would be taken aback to see his frenzy. They would be frightened to see His flashing eyes, His floating hair.

They would ask others to beware of him lest he should cast his spell on them because he had drunk the milk of paradise. The dreamy atmosphere, the word-music, and the beautiful imagery of the poem have made it in the words of a critic, The most wonderful of all the poems of Coleridge.

Question 3

Make a comparison between Tartary and Kubla Khan.

There are certain common things that can be found in poems, Tartary and Kubla Khan. Some points are related to the text and subject of the poem while some are related to history. Both the poems are full of elements of nature that are rivers, lakes, birds, trees, forests, and many other things.

These elements of nature give a new look and beauty to the poems. It also shows that both these poets are also lovers of nature which is a source of freshness and energy. Both the poets imagine romantic lands which are full of pleasure and delights. 

In these lands, everything is matchless and beautiful. The world Xanadu and Tartary are beyond the common experience of life. There is another point that both the poems share. This is related to history. In both the poems, we have a linkage of the Tartar tribe. 

Tartar was a warrior tribe that emerged centuries ago in central Asia. Kubla Khan belonged to this tribe and was Tartar by race. He was the grandson of Changez Khan. On the other hand, Walter De La Mare wishes to be the imaginary ruler of the land of Tartars.

In the end, we can say that both the poems are full of music and music creates a soothing effect on the minds of the readers. When we compare both poems, we come to know they are similar in many respects. Both are imaginative, romantic, mysterious, and full of fantastic dreamlike and traces like atmosphere and tendencies.

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