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Analysis of S. T.

Coleridge's Kubla Khan as a Dream Poem


Coleridges dream faculty is his strong point as a poet and he is a
dreamer of dreams and his Kubla Khan(1798) is not the product of his
observation but has come out from mysterious dreams. Coleridge himself
claimed that the poem Kubla Khan was the product of a hallucinatory
dream experienced after he had taken opium in consequence of a slight
indisposition. On awaking, he began to commit the experience to paper but
was interrupted by a person on business from Porlock. On returning to his
desk, he found that the intensity of his impressions had faded. The poem
claims to be scattered lines and images from a longer, forgotten work.
Whether the story is true or not, the poem takes the unrecapturable nature
of such dreams as its theme. It opens with sumptuous images of a mythic
land, in which a powerful ruler orders the construction of a fabulous palace.
It is an edifice of dream, a fragment of pure romance and a product of a
dream rooted in imagination.
Apparently Kubla Khan lacks any logical coherence of ideas. It has the
essence of poetry and dream because its aim is to delight, not to present the
truth. Farther, it has procession of images which are Vague. All these
romantic associations are concentrated within a short space to arouse a
sense of wonder, mystery and awe. Such romantic images include ancient
forests and hills, caverns which are measureless to man, spots of greenery,
music of dulcimer, a damsel with a dulcimer, milk of paradise, a waning
moon, and a woman waiting for her demon lover:
But oh! That deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedern cover.
A savage place! As holy and enchanted.
As eer beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover.
So to say, the images are not also linked logically. They come one after the
other through association as happens in dreams. In first four lines Kubla
Khan orders a palace to be built. In the ensuring four lines, it is built,
In xanadu did Kubla Khan,
A stately pleasure dome decree
-------------------------------------------with walls and tower girdled round
and there were gardens bright with sinuous rills

In the midst of highly romantic description of landscape, the poet introduces


an entirely different note:
Ancestral voices prophesying war
Farther when the dream is broken midway, the poet feels himself unable to
give description of the pleasure dome. So the poet wishes romantically to
revive within him the symphony and the song.
The poem has two parts. In the first part there is a record of the vision or
dream. The second part is the poets efforts to realize that dream and to
build that dome in the air. In fact, Kubla Khan is the most perfect example
of what might pleasure dome, its sacred river, its panting fountain, its caves
of ice, its ecstatic figure with flashing eyes and floating hair, Kubla Khan is
clearly a poem about poetic inspiration. Though symbolism and loose
disconnections the poetic mood of ecstasy can not be missed in this poem.
The organic links among the different parts of this poem is its symbolic unity
which simultaneously defines a world of separation of head and heart, action
and contemplation, the matter of fact world and the realm of imagination.
The richness of this poem is its dream quality, multiple point of view and an
apparent ambiguity.

(i)
(ii)
(iii)

There are temporary changes in the metre because the poem has dreamy
origin. In this connection three points may be mentioned:
There is irregularity of the rhymes.
There is unevenness of the lines
There are temporary changes.
As if the words images and visions are so loose and floating in the world of
conscience which is best poetically revealed in the poem.
For example: It was a miracle of rare device
A sunny pleasure dome with eaves of ice.
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I san.
Again Coleridge conveys the idea of harmony and order by imitating the
word order of the Latin language, using strong single-syllable rhymes, and
providing a percussive beat heightened by alliteration. The poem offers
sensual images of an oriental paradise: There are gardens bright with
sinuous rills and many an incense-bearing tree. With a powerful sense of
movement, the poem follows the progress of the river Alph in order to focus
on a violent natural force beyond the palace walls: a chasm, with ceaseless
turmoil seething. Coleridge describes this place with a mass of contradictory
adjectives: It is holy, enchanted, and savage, its massive force like that

of a living being. If, as literary critics have suggested, this place is a


metaphor for the imagination, its blasts might be compared to Wordsworths
definition of the poetic process as a spontaneous overflow of powerful
feeling.