Explanation of Kubla Khan

Coleridge, while describing his approach towards poems dealing with the super-natural in Biographia Literaria says that in these poems he strives to give “a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadow of imaginations that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith”. This approach of Coleridge has been well exemplified in his celebrated poem, Kubla Khan where through a series of resplendent images, produced by the combined force of his Romantic imagination and the sub-conscious, the poet has created a supernatural psycho-sphere, the vividness of which gives it more clarity than reality itself.

The poem begins with the resplendent image of the locales of Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome in Xanadu. With sensuous descriptions of ‘gardens bright with sinuous rills’, incense-bearing trees and ancient forests enfolding ‘sunny spots of greenery”, Coleridge revives the spirit of medieval mysticism and marvel. The supernatural mood is set from the very first lines of the poem.

The stream of super-naturalism which runs through the poem, reaches an important point when Coleridge sheds light upon the romantic chasm of Xanadu – “That deep romantic chasm which slanted down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover! A savage place! As holy and enchanted as ever beneath a waning moon was haunted…”. A great mystic atmosphere is created by the faint moonlight and the cedarn cover and to this enchanting atmosphere, Coleridge adds the presence of a “woman wailing for her demon lover” who is a very important super-natural machinery. Allusion is drawn from the myth of Anima, who dreamed of dancing with demons.

The process of the bursting forth of a fountain from the womb of the chasm which is symbolic of the birth of poetry has been described in such astonishing details and with expressions such as ‘swift half-intermittent burst’, ‘rebounding hail’ and ‘chaffy grains beneath the thresher’s flail”, “dancing rocks” and so on that the occurrence of an unnatural phenomena is at once registered in our brains. The emergence of this fountain is indeed a super-natural phenomena as it becomes the river that echoes – “Ancestral voices prophesying war”. This prophecy gives rise to fear in our hearts as its super-naturalism is suggestive and a lot is left to our imagination to comprehend.

The spirit of medieval magic in the poem is further strengthened by the marriage of fundamental opposites in the image of – “ A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice” that is reflected on the river.

The allusion to Abyssinian maid playing her dulcimer on Mount Abora is another important supernatural machinery. The supernatural exuberance of the poem reaches its peak towards the end where Coleridge describes a poet locked in a creational frenzy through a shamanic dancer who has scary flashing eyes and floating hair. While reading the last lines we are convinced of a divine presence among us as the eloquent prophet “on honeydew hath fed and drunk the milk of paradise”.

Thus we see that supernatural elements pour out of every line of Kubla Khan which gives it an ethereal appeal due to which it holds a special place in our memory.

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