Samuel Taylor Coleridge

(1772-1834 / Devon / England)

Kubla Khan - Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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.

Comments about Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  • Dipankar Sadhukhan (9/25/2016 5:59:00 AM)

    'Kubla khan' is a great poem.
    In the introduction of The Lyrical Ballads (1798) , Wordsworth and Coleridge professed their points of view regarding the nature of lyric poetry and their own practical principle to be employed in their poems. Wordsworth concerned himself with nature and human nature and Coleridge often wrote dream poems under the influence of opium and the poems also appeared to be fragmentary. Among the marvellous creations - The Rime of the ancient Mariner, Christabel (in two parts) , Kubla Khan are remarkable. Coleridge is an adept master in the realm of supernatural poetry and he is indebted to Spencer and medieval metrical romance.
    Kubla Khan, a vision in a dream is a fragmentary dream poem. It is about poetry and poetic inspiration. It is the most imaginative of Coleridge's poems. Swinburne observes, Every line of the poem might be subjected to the like scrutiny but the student would be none nearest to the master's secret. The spirit, the odour in it, the cloven tongue of fire that rests upon its forehead, is a thing neither explicable nor communicable.
    Kubla Khan is about two kinds of poetry. The first 36 lines are about naturalness, palpability and matter of factness of poetry. The second part of the poem is essentially concerned with divine inspiration. The last part is also on the theory of poetic inspiration and creativity. The first part is concerned with the relation of man to nature. The second part is related to divine aspect of poetry. Herein lies the organic relations between the two parts.
    Kubla Khan is indeed a forerunner of modern poetry. There is a chain of ambiguous and paradoxical aspects of poetry and philosophy. Its fragmentary nature indicates its modernity. It is, in its depth, a definite comment on the modern world and its separation of head and heart, action and contemplation.
    Symbolism is the main criterion of Coleridge's poetical craftsmanship. G. Wilson Knight, in his illuminating article, Coleridge's Divine Comedy, has analysed the symbolism of the poem.
    Kubla Khan, the great oriental king once ordered that a magnificent pleasure dome be built for him in Xanadu as his summer capital. The sacred river, Alph winding its course through immeasurably deep caves ultimately to sink into a dark subterranean sea. A fertile tract of land, about ten square miles in area was enclosed with walls and towers. There are bright gardens and ancient forests forming a vast green spot.
    Next the poet describes the source of the river, Alph. There was a deep, mysterious and fearsome chasm that slanted down a green hill. There are many cedar trees. It was a savage, holy and enchanted place, frequented by a woman desperately wandering about under a waning moon in search of her demon lover. A mighty fountain burst forth from this chasm intermittently. Huge rocks are bursting out of it with the sound of hail storm. The noise is tremendous. The Alph comes out of this fountain and flows for five miles through woods and valleys. Then it sinks into the sunless sea with a loud noise. In the midst of this noise, Kubla Khan could hear the ancestral voices predicting a war. The pleasure - dome was a sunny dome. It's shadow fell midway on the river. While standing here, one could hear the mingled noises from the fountain and the caves.
    In the second part of the poem, the poet gives a picture of a poet caught in poetic frenzy. Here Coleridge is dealing with the theory of poetic inspiration. In one vision, he saw an Abyssinian maid playing on her dulcimer and singing of the wild splendour of Mount Abora. The pleasure dome for the poet is a miracle of art because it includes 'sunny-dome' and 'caves of ice' - life and death. Coleridge's concept of poetic frenzy is akin to Shakespearean vision. Humphrey House considers the poem a poetic creation about the ecstasy in imaginative fulfilment.
    The main metaphorical meaning of the poem is hidden in the concluding part. There is no doubt that Kubla Khan is basically a critical commentary on Plato's theory of poetry. There is the concept of madness in Plato's The Ion and Phaedrus again Shakespeare equates the poet, lover and the lunatic in the same category in A Mid Summer Night's Dream. The 'flashing eyes' and 'floating hair' of Coleridge's poem belong to a poet in the fury of creation. So there are verbal resemblances in the versions of Plato, Shakespeare and Coleridge.
    Socretes in his Ion compares lyric poets to 'Bacchie maidens who drew milk and honey from the rivers'. They acted under the influence of Dionysus. In the final section, the poet speaks of a strange vision of an Abyssinian maid playing on her dulcimer and singing of the wild splendour of Mount Abora. The poet is caught in a mood of poetic frenzy with a paradise vision. The readers of inspiratory poetry will go round the poet three times to protect themselves from his magical frenzy. They will experience a kind of fear as one feels in the presence of God. It is holy fear because thought the poet is a magician, there is nothing evil about his magic. The poet seems to be fed and nourished on honey dew falling from the heaven. He drinks nectar, a sort of magical drink which produces divine inspiration in the form of melodious hymn.
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  • Fathima Usman (8/1/2016 7:13:00 AM)

    The contrasts are beautiful - sun and ice...The description of poets is perfect. (Report) Reply

  • Susan Williams (3/8/2016 3:15:00 PM)

    Coleridge finds a lot of his dramatic material for his poetry in nature. He sees POWER in the workings of nature. He's totally captivated by that power. He wants to duplicate the lightning strike, the intense winds that blow roofs off of houses, the formation of ice, the rampaging waters of a river in flood stage. He doesn't want to just duplicate them, he wants his poetry to be them. That is typical opium using Coleridge for you. That's why his poems are so intense, emotional and rooted in the natural world. They definitely are not polite, quiet, regular type poems. Nope. He's wanting to create a riot of emotions instead of restraining it. Kubla Khan is probably the most intense, emotional, strange, power-ridden poem you'll ever read. Bringing all that raging power of nature into this is his not very subtle way to get you to think about love, death, the soul, and strange magnetic men called Kubla Khan. (Report) Reply

  • Barry Middleton (3/8/2016 2:45:00 PM)

    He was out to Make Xanadu Great Again! Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm! ! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • (3/8/2016 10:50:00 AM)

    Although unfinished, certainly one of the best poems ever. (Report) Reply

  • (3/8/2016 6:47:00 AM)

    I read this poem many times and always wondered why Coldridge named it Kubla Khan. There may be many analysts for it but to me the name itself depicts the drama of life. A warrior's life is made up of war and destruction but there must be time for their softer emotions when they try to take care of this earth and admire all it's beauty. Replica of which they try to create. This contrast of emotions crafted so skillfully in the images of this poem. Just a fantastic poem to read and read again. (Report) Reply

  • Tauhid Alausa (3/8/2016 3:56:00 AM)

    sound like something from atlantis. spectacular (Report) Reply

  • Edward Kofi Louis (3/8/2016 1:06:00 AM)

    The sacred river! With caves of Ice. Great work. (Report) Reply

  • (12/22/2015 12:11:00 PM)

    An Anecdote goes, when Coleridge was writing Kubla Khan seated in his garden one day, he was experiencing the Muse on full flame, a marvellous training of thought was flowing, which Coleridge was so excitedly trying to note down, but hear a sudden thud on his garden gate and he walked up to find a certain Porlock was asking for direction. After assisting him, he sat down again, but he could not recall that train of thought, however hard he tried. Had Mr. Porlock did not disturb Coleridge, we might have gotten a better version of Kubla khan. Damn you, porlock! (Report) Reply

    Tyger Burning (5/23/2016 6:11:00 AM)

    It was a traveller from Porlock (a nearby town) , not Mr Porlock. But yes- would have been nice to have had the finished article.

  • Dutendra Chamling (10/19/2015 7:23:00 AM)

    When people read Kubla Khan, then surely, they will miss Coleridge and vice versa. This poem made it. (Report) Reply

  • Sagnik Chakraborty (5/15/2015 4:14:00 AM)

    Albeit unfinished, 'Kubla Khan' is most certainly one of Coleridge's best. (Report) Reply

  • Akhtar Jawad (1/17/2015 8:50:00 AM)

    A master piece of Coleridge. (Report) Reply

  • Akhtar Jawad (1/17/2015 8:49:00 AM)

    A master piece of Coleridge. (Report) Reply

  • Cherret Leakey (11/9/2014 11:16:00 PM)

    this is the poem that i was asked to review in my poetry exam! ah (Report) Reply

  • Terry Craddock (11/9/2014 7:59:00 PM)

    This poem still intrigues with the siren call of an incredibly powerful opium dream, I have loved these lines for decades and still long for the missing lines left unwritten by an ill timed strangers knock upon the door. (Report) Reply

  • (11/9/2014 8:10:00 AM)

    A beautiful poem and it is more meaningful with reference to historical event.I liked it. (Report) Reply

  • (11/9/2014 3:49:00 AM)

    If I had to choose THE best poem in the English language (and what a difficult task that would be!) , I would choose this one. I had to grow into it, however; at one time I thought it was very nearly a nonsense poem, crazy like a dream. But over the years, it has become more and more meaningful. It deals conclusively with Coleridge's favorite theme: the Imagination, its working and its importance.

    Its subtlety and yet its accessibility, its intricate form and yet is quotability and simple syntax, its two dramatic parts which at first seem almost unrelated yet turn out to be complementary and perfectly unified - all of these aspects of the poem contribute to its overall quality. And, by the way, don't believe a word of Coleridge's excuse that it is incomplete. It is, indeed, complete and perfectly unified. It's readable and pleasurable without consulting any secondary sources, but if you want to know the sources of some of Coleridge's imagery and get a sense of what these images might have meant to him personally, consult John Livingstone Loewe's 'Road to Xanadu.' Also read the passage in the 'Biographia Literaria' which has to do with C's view of the 'commanding genius' and the creative (or imaginative) genius. Kublai Khan, of course, is the archetype of the 'commanding genius, ' one who hopes to create (or restore) an Eden, or Paradise on earth; the 'I' of the second part has the prospect of representing the creative (or imaginative) genius. The 'damsel w/ the dulcimer' is, as it were, his Muse, or his imaginative mind.

    Could I revive within me
    Her symphony and song,

    'I' would build the Eden that Kublai Khan envisioned, but without its flaw ('that deep romantic chasm, ' 'a savage place') and without its being subject to the ravages of time ('Ancestral voices prophesying war') . With 'music loud and long, ' or with poetry or one of the other arts, he would call forth 'that dome in air, / That sunny dome') . Of course, the general public is always suspicious of the creative genius, rejecting him/her and attempting to restore common-sense order of things:

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

    But even in their plaint they indirectly point to the success of his mission: the milk and honey of the Promised Land, the Paradise (the closing word of this complete, carefully crafted, imaginatively engrossing work of art) .
    (Report) Reply

    Tammi Macclellan Heupel (11/10/2014 5:22:00 PM)

    I couldn't agree with you more. This poem is THE best poem. It's seemingly simple complexities that weave into, through and around us again and infinite ouroboros one could say ;)

    Frank Avon (11/9/2014 12:41:00 PM)

    Sorry, John Livingston LOWES.

    Coleridge's discussion of 'genius' is in Chapter 2 of 'Biographia Literaria.' Here is a significant quote:

    'While the [creative, or absolute genius] rest content between thought and reality, as it were in an intermundium of which their own living spirit supplies the substance, and their imagination the ever-varying form; the [commanding genius] must impress their preconceptions on the world without, in order to present them back to their own view with the satisfying degree of clearness, distinctness, and individuality. These in tranquil times are formed to exhibit a perfect poem in palace, or temple, or landscape-garden; or a tale of romance in canals that join sea with sea, or in walls of rock, which, shouldering back the billows, imitate the power, and supply the benevolence of nature to sheltered navies; or in aqueducts that, arching the wide vale from mountain to mountain, give a Palmyra to the desert. But alas! in times of tumult they are the men destined to come forth as the shaping spirit of ruin, to destroy the wisdom of ages in order to substitute the fancies of a day, and to change kings and kingdoms, as the wind shifts and shapes the clouds '

  • Aftab Alam Khursheed (11/9/2014 3:11:00 AM)

    This poem is dream of STC yet Kubla Khan the Mongol Ruler established his kingdom in China..words are dreaming words very interesting this poem unlike Ancient Mariner very tough in its code AM is about the French Revolution and this is... lovely and famous poem of STC (Report) Reply

  • (11/9/2012 10:54:00 PM)

    years ago I had a collection of romantic and victorian poetry this poem was in it, when I read it I could not help but think how similar it was to the lyrics to the RUSH song of the same name, and then I realized Neal Peart stolle it almost verbatum from this. Well he stole a masterful poem and turned it into a well crafted song. But Rime of the ancient Mariner is still the best work Coleridge EVER wrote (Report) Reply

  • Paul Brookes (11/9/2012 6:49:00 AM)

    For once I agree with Mr Straw's assessment of this poem and of the Romantics too. The poem certainly resonates if imperfect, of the poets feeling on nature etc, and better by half than some of todays bleeding heart poetry which frankly is self indulgent and far to egocentric, with little beauty or poetic line to recommend it. (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: river, romantic, ocean, music, war, woman, tree, hair, moon, song, green, sea, running, dance, women

Poem Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2001

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