Kubla Khan

4314 Words18 Pages
Kubla Khan

If a man could pass thro' Paradise in a Dream, & have a flower presented

to him as a pledge that his Soul had really been there, & found that flower

in his hand when he awoke -- Aye! and what then?

(CN, iii 4287)

Kubla Khan is a fascinating and exasperating poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (. Almost everyone who has read it, has been charmed by its magic. It must surely be true that no poem of comparable length in English or any other language has been the subject of so much critical commentary. Its fifty-four lines have spawned thousands of pages of discussion and analysis. Kubla Khan is the sole or a major subject in five book-length studies; close to 150 articles and book-chapters (doubtless I have missed some others) have been devoted exclusively to it; and brief notes and incidental comments on it are without number. Despite this deluge, however, there is no critical unanimity and very little agreement on a number of important issues connected with the poem: its date of composition, its "meaning", its sources in Coleridge's reading and observation of nature, its structural integrity (i.e. fragment versus complete poem), and its relationship to the Preface by which Coleridge introduced it on its first publication in 1816.

Coleridge's philosophical explorations appear in his greatest poems. 'Kubla Khan', with its exotic imagery and symbols, rich vocabulary and rhythms, written, by Coleridge's account, under the influence of laudanum, was often considered a brilliant work, but without any defined theme. However, despite its complexity the poem can be read as a well-constructed exposition on human genius and art. The theme of life and nature again appears in 'The Rime of the Ancient...

... middle of paper ...

...pting to salvage it by reducing it to a coherent substratum of symbols, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that no single interpretation will ever resolve the complexities of so protean a product of the human imagination. Mystery and ambiguity, verisimilitude and teasing suggestiveness, are essential ingredients in Kubla Khan -- a poem which reflects, though darkly, Coleridge's largely subconscious ruminations on poetry, paradise, and the heights and depths of his own unfathomable intellectual and spiritual being. Kubla Khan is one of those "ethereal finger-pointings" so prized by Keats; it is a poem that has no palpable design upon us, and it provides at least one instance of an occasion on which Coleridge did not "let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge"
Open Document