“Kublah Khan” Samuel Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” is an example of romantic creative thought which uses idealistic process to capture a dream of another world. Through the use of strong imagery, Coleridge produces a paradise like vision of a rich landscape, which is surrounded by a dome built by the main character named for the title, Kublah Khan. This alludes to an important aspect of the poems theme, man verses nature. The overriding theme of the work contains extensive imagery that allows for imagination to change the world in the face of conflict.
Coleridge uses vocabulary based on contrast and rhythm for his alliteration and assonance, this paints a world where good and evil becomes easily identifiable. It is believed that, Coleridge was in a deep sleep induced by opiates when “Kublah Kan” was composed. Coleridge awoke from the dream that inspired the poem and began memorializing the dream, but he was interrupted at some point in his transcription. He then later forgot the rest of the dream, which is reflected towards the end of the work. Coleridge was a deeply religious man; therefore the poem is filled with references to God along with well-known religious metaphors.
It is possible that the location of Xanadu (the main setting of the poem) is symbolic of the fabled Garden of Eden: lovely and innocent, yet surrounded by evil “A savage place”(14). Xanadu is further portrayed as a location that is under constant threat of destruction. The comparison to the Garden of Eden and the language used by the author are some examples of Coleridge’s many uses of symbolism. The religious theme continues throughout the poem; “cedarn cover! A savage place! as holy and enchanted” (13-14), which is a metaphor for God’s warning to Eve in the Book of Genesis as she fell for the serpent’s treacherous charm.
Additionally, cedar trees represent healing, cleansing, and protection, which are all tenants of Christianity. Coleridge describes the river as “sacred” (24) on numerous occasions throughout the poem and describes the land of Xanadu as “holy and enchanted”(14). This is yet another symbolic contrast since “holiness” is normally not associated with the concept of “enchanted”. The river represents the fountain of youth, “A mighty fountain”(19), surrounding the monument to imagination. Coleridge speaks of miracles and mingles the miracles with the concept of holiness. Coleridge refers to Hell with his choice of language to depict what is eyond the pleasure dome: “caverns measureless to man” (27). The demons, which bewitch “waning moon was haunted By a woman wailing for her demon-lover! ”(16) are related to witchcraft and also plagues are described, which distract the individuals from their accomplishments. The image of an evil angel with a harp, “A damsel with a dulcimer”(37), brings the dark side of this enchanted world to light. The peace and serenity is contrasted by the violent disorder of the river and the threat of “prophesying war! ”(30), which is an apocalyptic reference. The use of contrasting images reveals the dichotomy of Coleridge’s imagination.
The images of the two women in the poem are portrayed as opposite: one woman represents evil and war “By woman wailing for her demon-lover! ”(16), while the “Abyssinian maid”(39) symbolizes exotic beauty and innocence. Coleridge’s interesting use of vocabulary challenges and teases our imagination into seeing what the author pictured in his dream. In Xanadu, there are not small streams, but “sinuous rills”(8) and wall and towers do not merely enclose the gardens but are “girdled round” (7). Coleridge’s use of language and vocabulary supports the imagery and the world portrayed in the author’s dream.
Another important theme overriding the poem is the concept of good versus evil. There are images of paradise throughout the poem, which are combined with references to darker, more evil locations. Xanadu is also a savage and ancient place where pure good and evil are more apparent than in the monotony of everyday living. By using these colorful images, Coleridge speaks to the readers’ emotional experiences to paint a dream world. The overall structure of the poem “Kublah Khan” is in two parts. The first part, which contains three stanzas, describes Xanadu as if Coleridge is actually there, experiencing all of the sensations in person.
The second part of the poem is filled with Coleridge’s language and his longing to be in Xanadu. Yet, the author is unable to truly capture the Xanadu experience once again. Both parts of the poem deal with an attempt to render a fantastic creation. The first ten lines of the poem are similar to a chant or incantation that supports the mystery and supernatural aspect of the poem, “And here were forests ancient as the hills,”(10). In the first two lines, Coleridge describes a dome-like significant structure situated in the middle of Xanadu. “A stately pleasure-dome”(2).
The dome represents an overpowering dream by the main character to have a monument praising humans’ strongest desires, creativity. The ruler decrees that this frivolous monument be built while ignoring the unpleasantness that can be found in ordinary life “I would build that dome in the air;”(46). The dome is a testament to imagination. The first stanza has a definite rhythm and beat, which describes the beauty and sacredness of Xanadu with sensual and exotic images. The second stanza depicts a savage and untamed violence of life outside of the pleasure dome.
The disorder and primitive cycles of nature are mixed with images of evil and the threat of war. These themes are also revisited in the second stanza. In the third stanza, the life forces are entwined together to prove that beauty and danger cannot be separated from each other, despite what the ruler Kubla Khan desires. There is a distinct change of tone between the third and fourth stanzas. The fourth stanza no longer describes Xanadu, rather the author’s desire for control over his imagination. The Irony is that the poem is mainly about a monument to imagination.
The author longs to be able once again to conjure up the spirit and ideas of his utopian world, Xanadu. The two stanzas at first seem disconnected, but these stanzas are linked by the idea that even a ruler cannot have control over the forces of nature, and the writer over his imagination and fate. Yet ironically the monument “pleasure-dome”(2) in the land Xanadu embodies imagination. The poem incorporates language and structure for the reader, which plays an important part in the overall work. The character Kubla Khan has built a dome while Coleridge uses language to recreate a perfection of his own dream.
The contrast in the images that the author presents to his audience is made even clearer in the final stanzas. Kublah Khan controls the land of Xanadu, “A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice! ”(36), the dome itself is a contrast of fire and ice; the sun symbolizes all things well, while the ice represents death and destruction. Xanadu is idyllic, but also “savage” (14). The theme of nature versus man is especially apparent with the diction and language used to describe the world of Kubla Khan with deep syntax referencing the sea and jungle. Kubla Khan” is a good example of creative writing that speaks of deceptive appearance. The dome may be beautiful with its bright and sunny gardens, “blossoming many an incense-bearing tree”(9), but it is an enchanted eye of the storm which misleads humanity, representing a raw monument of the human imagination. The garden is surrounded by savage destruction caused by the “ceaseless turmoil seething,”(17). The land of Xanadu is not ruled by positive influences, but by the raw ancient corners of the author’s mind, which are in constant struggle for the search for an ideal utopia.
Coleridge’s ideal paradise is threatened by the darkness and disorder caused by the river, which is also symbolic of knowledge and eternal youth. All these images are examples of the integral world Coleridge has painted where all elements revolve around the, “dome of pleasure” (31), or the monument of imagination. The closing lines of Kublah Khan describe pagan rituals that attempt to protect not only the reader, but also Coleridge himself from the forces of evil. Coleridge having, “drunk the milk of paradise’”(54) know sees the beautiful image of a coveted utopia.
The second part of the poem reveals that the mind has an ability to create a paradise like world that is tragically unable to sustain itself in the real world. “Kubla Khan” is a whimsical peek into our unconscious mind that combines the art of inspiration, which in turn captivates the reader with its musical and lyrical nature. The final stanza is Coleridge’s description of how profoundly he desires to return to a land of romantic supernaturalism. The author’s vocabulary suggests an exotic setting. The literary techniques used by Coleridge convey to the reader a kingdom of imagination where creativity is always possible.
The poem ultimately makes us feel like we are in an alternate reality, which is a world where permanent nature and man are constantly at odds. The art and culture behind “Kubla Khan” is evident whether there are monks chanting in a cave or, “ancestral voices prophesying war! ”(30). Coleridge’s poem which plays off as a symphony of sound revolves around metaphorical conflicts that represent humanities greatest obstacles being overcome by creativity. Works Cited Coleridge, Samuel. “Kubla Khan. ” Introduction to Literature Sixth Edition. Ed. Dean Johnson. Boston, M. A. : Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000. 496-498. Print.