“Kubla Khan:” A Description of Earthly Paradise

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“Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is said to be “one of the best remembered works of the Romantic period,” (Gray) and though this poem may seem speak deeply about the world, its conception was fairly simple: Coleridge had been reading a book about Kubla Khan in Xanadu (by a man named Samuel Purchas) before falling into a deep sleep induced by an opium mixture to which he had long since had an addiction. When he awoke from this drug induced stupor, he had apparently 200 to 300 lines of poetry in his head, but after writing the first three stanzas, was interrupted (and thus, we observe a shift in the poem at that point) by “a person from Porlock” (Brett 46-8) and could only remember one final bit of lines – the final stanza in “Kubla Khan.” (This interruption apparently making the poem: “what is perhaps the definitive statement on the obstruction and thwarting of the visionary genius.” [“Sparknotes”]) The poem itself is set in a fantastical place called Xanadu, where Kubla Khan’s beautiful palace is surrounded by lush greenery, and one fast-flowing river (its focus on nature being consistent with the Romantic poetry of the time.) Xanadu was a real place, but Coleridge’s poem mostly over exaggerates its beauty and depth. Other places mentioned in the poem, Mount Abora and Abyssinia may be references to other works, such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which Abyssinian kings guarded their children at Mount Amara, a false paradise. (Stevenson 605-30) Another possible explanation of Coleridge’s choice of the setting is that he was creating the paradise in which he wanted to reside; (Coleridge was somewhat of a radical in politics; he, along with Robert Southey, was part of a movement called ‘Pantisocracy,’ which called fo...

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