Although the form of "Kubla Kahn" is beautiful, it is complex. The rhyming patterns are quite complicated; the first stanza, for instance, rhymes in the pattern abaab ccdede. Coleridge's patterns of alliteration are also involved: He will sometimes use the sound at the beginning of one syllable as the sound at the beginning of the next syllable, as in "Xanadu did" in line one, "miles meandering" in line 25, and "deep delight" in line 44. He also alliterates vowels, not only consonants, to produce a rhythmic singsong effect.
Although the form and the beautiful language in "Kubla Kahn" were all that I could appreciate when I first read the poem, I have since come to realize that the poem has a complex symbolic pattern, as well. My own analysis may seem to be paltry when faced with the fact that there have been thousands of criticisms of this poem published, some comprising entire volumes. But the very quantity of criticism may serve as an argument that any interpretation of the poem is really an investigation of the writer of the criticism. That is to say, the poem has no outward meaning, or at least that the meaning put in by the author is of secondary importance. The subtitle of "Kubla Kahn" reads "Or a Vision in a Dream." Dreams may or may not have symbolic meaning, but it is doubtful that anyone intentionally designed symbolic meaning specifically for an individual dream.
My reading of "Kubla Kahn" depends on a biographical detail from Coleridge's life. Coleridge was an opium addict for years, and Appelbaum, an editor of a collection of romantic poetry, claims that "some of his [Coleridge's] poems reflect the anguish this caused." (Appelbaum viii) Coleridge...
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...s a change in the author's attitude. Whereas he may have previously been supposed to be merely an opium visionary -- a weak person who lives outside the everyday reality that the rest of us inhabit -- he is revealed here to be a creator, a strong individual, as well. Coleridge is here identifying himself with Kubla Kahn. The Kahn decreed a stately pleasure dome, while Coleridge created a poem that is equated with the dome. "Kubla Kahn" is Coleridge's attempt to rise above what many people assume drug addicts to be and to show himself to be a strong creator, on a level with an emperor who founded of a great dynasty.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Kubla Kahn" in The McGraw-Hill Book of Poetry. Ed. Kraft Rompf and Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993.
Appelbaum, Stanley, Ed. English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology. Mineola: Dover, 1996.
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