S. T. Coleridge's "Kubla Khan": Dream Fragment or Innovative Poetry?


Samuel Taylor Coleridge is gifted with the most fertile and vigorous imagination among all the Romantic Poets. He incidentally imagined his famous poem „Kubla Khan“ due to an opium haze, consequently wrote a poem of vivid imagination. „Kubla Khan“, in a broad sense, largely concerns the mystery, importance and power of imagination. Coleridge delves deep into supernatural visions and purposely links „Kubla Khan“ with the realm of imagination while separating it from logic and reason. In essence, Coleridge employs numerous methods of stimulating vivid imagination through sublimity as well as through the use of literary devices such as personification, repetition, and descriptive diction; in addition, Coleridge attempts to reconstruct a lost vision by creating a supernatural imagination through depictions of conscious creation versus unconscious knowledge.


Imagination is a mental faculty of framing images of external objects which are not present to the five senses. It is a process of using all the faculties so as to realize with intensity what is not perceived, and to do this in a way that integrates and orders every thing present to the mind so that reality is enhanced thereby. Coleridge in his „Biographia Literaria“ writes of imagination thus;

„The power reveals itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite and discordant qualities of sameness, with the differences of the general; with the concrete; the idea with the image; the individual with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness with old familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion with more than usual order.“

We see that Coleridge’s imagination has all these qualities to a superb order. It is by this rich and fertile imagination that he is able to create his perplexing mystery. In this respect he goes ahead of Wordsworth who was too conscientious to describe or present those things that were not seen personally by him. Coleridge, on the other hand, was able to describe and present those things which he came across during his vast study through his faculty of imagination. He had the faculty of presenting such unseen and inexperienced things so vividly as if those had been literally present before his eyes. He presents the place of Kubla Khan’s palace as he was practically present there, ‘here Kubla Khan commanded a palace to be built and a stately garden there unto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground was enclosed with a wall,‘ set imagination on fire and we can have vivid picture of Kubla Khan’s stately pleasure dome. According to the great Greek critic Longinus, a great writer is that one who has the capability of transporting the reader to his own imaginative world. Coleridge, no doubt, was bestowed with this quality. Not only this, he had the rare skill to create an imaginary world, changed it into imaginative and then transformed it to a make-belief condition. The world created by Coleridge in his whole poem of ‘The Ancient Mariner‘ is the best example of this faculty of Coleridge. J.L. Lowes‘ book ‘The Road to Xanadu‘ amply illustrates how Coleridge’s imagination could transform simple facts collected during his reading into something mysterious and wonderful.

The foundation of dream life is for them a peculiar state of psych- ical activity, which they even celebrate as elevation to some higher state. Schubert, for instance, claims:  „The dream is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the fetters   of matter.“Not  all  go  so  far  as  this,  but  many   maintain that dreams have  their  origin  in  real  spiritual excitations, and  are  the  out- ward manifestations of  spiritual powers whose free  movements have been  hampered during the day  („Dream  Phantasies,“ Scherner, Volkelt). A large number of observers acknowledge that dream life is capable of extraordinary achievements—at any rate, in certain fields („Memory“). The dream is to be regarded, says Binz, „as a physical process always useless, frequently morbid.“ All the peculiarities of dream life are explicable as the incoherent effort, due to some physiological stimulus, of certain organs, or of the cortical elements of a brain otherwise asleep.However, Sigmund Freud says in his masterpiece, Dream Psychology (1920):

„I must  further remark that  the  dream is far shorter than  the  thoughts which  I hold  it replaces;  whilst  analysis discovered that  the  dream was provoked by an unimportant occurrence the evening before the dream“ (Freud, 1920:13).

Similarly, it is believed that „Kubla Khan“ was created by Coleridge when he was in a deep sleep that was induced by the use of opiates which were prescribed for dysentery. He fell asleep while reading Purcha’s Pilgrimage about building of Kubla Khan’s palace and garden; he continued for about three hours in a profound sleep. When he woke up from experiencing the dream in which he created the poem he began writing it down. He was part way through writing the poem and was interrupted by a person from the nearby town of Porlock. After this interruption he was unable to complete the poem because his access to the dream was lost. The unfinished work was not published for three decades. Much mystery has enshrouded „Kubla Khan“ and its meaning due to the circumstances of its creation. The poem itself is as mystical and interesting as the story behind its creation.

Ins and Outs of „Kubla Khan“

Recent studies of the poem have explored the fragmentary nature of the poem versus the harmonious vision of poetic theory it proposes. For example, in an essay analyzing the fragmentary nature of „Kubla Khan,“ Timothy Bahti proposes that the poet uses the symbol of the chasm to represent the act of creation, and that the struggle between the fragment and division that generates the sacred river is representative of the act of creative continuity. Other critics have focused on „Kubla Khan“ as a poem that relates the account of its own creation, thus stressing its importance as a work that defines Coleridge’s theories of poetic creation. It is now widely acknowledged that „Kubla Khan“ is a technically complex poem that reflects many of its creator’s poetic and creative philosophies and that the thematic repetition, the intricate rhymes, and carefully juxtaposed images in the work come together as a harmonious whole that is representative of Coleridge’s ideas of poetic creation.

According to the poet himself, ‘Kubla Khan‘ is now no more than a psychological curiosity. Hamphry House, however, observes and believes it to be a complete poem dealing with the theme of poetic creativity. Wilson Knight regards it a poem about life. This poem has the elements in of supernaturalism, mystery, fertile imagination, dream quality, medievalism, love of Nature, meditative note, humanitarianism, music and narrative skill which distinguish Coleridge’s poetry as the most complete representative of the English Romantic poetry of the early nineteenth century and includes ‘Kubla Khan‘ in the group of three great poems ‘Ancient Mariner‘, ‘Christabel‘ and ‘Kubla Khan‘.

The first and, for over a hundred years, almost the only reader to insist on the intelligibility and coherence of Kubla Khan was Shelley’s novel-writing friend, Thomas Love Peacock:   „there are“, he declared in 1818, „very few specimens of lyrical poetry so plain, so consistent, so completely simplex et unum from first to last“. Perhaps wisely, Peacock concluded his fragmentary essay with these words, thereby sparing himself the onerous task of explaining the consistency and meaning of so plain a poem as Kubla Khan. More recent commentators, however, have been much bolder. In the criticism of the last fifty years one may distinguish, broadly, four major approaches to Kubla Khan:  

(1) Analyses of it as a Poem about the Poetic Procedure;

(2) Readings of it as an Exemplification of Aspects of Coleridgean Aesthetic Theory;

(3) Freudian Interpretations; and

(4) Jungian Explanations.

1. Analyses of it as a Poem about the Poetic Procedure:

Generally speaking, however, the most popular view by far is that Kubla Khan is concerned with the poetic process itself. „What is Kubla Khan about? This is, or ought to be, an established fact of criticism: Kubla Khan is a poem about poetry“. On this reading, the Tartar prince Kubla Khan, who causes a pleasure-dome and elaborate gardens to be constructed in Xanadu, is a type of the artist, whose glorious creation, as the ancestral voices from the deep caverns warn, is a precariously balanced reconciliation of the natural and the artificial. The dream of Xanadu itself is an inspired vision which expresses dramatically the very nature of vision:  the fountain that throws up its waters from an underground ocean and so gives birth to the sacred river that meanders five miles through Kubla’s hortus conclusus before sinking again into the subterraneous depths images the sudden eruption of the subconscious into the realm of the conscious mind and its eventual inevitable recession back into the deep well of the unconscious. The artist’s purpose is to capture such visions in words, but in attempting to do so he encounters two serious difficulties: first, language is an inadequate medium that permits only an approximation of the visions it is used to record, and, second, the visions themselves, by the time the poet comes to set them down, have faded into the light of common day and must be reconstructed from memory. Between the conception and the execution falls the shadow. Coleridge confronts these problems directly in lines 37-54 (the section beginning with the Abyssinian maid), where he enters the poem as lyric poet in propria persona. The vision of Kubla’s Xanadu is replaced by that of a damsel singing of Mount Abora — an experience more auditory than visual and therefore less susceptible of description by mere words. Moreover, it involves in an equivocal way a vision within a vision, since the remembered dream of the Abyssinian maid is the cortex of the lost vision of the content of her song. (Did Wordsworth, perhaps, later recall these lines when he composed The Solitary Reaper?) If only, Coleridge laments, he could revive within him the damsel’s lost symphony and song, if only he could recapture the whole of the original vision instead of just a portion of it, then he would build „in air“ (i.e. find verbal music to express) the vision he had experienced — and he would do so in such a way that witnesses would declare him to be divinely inspired and form a circle of worship around him.

2. Readings of it as an Exemplification of Aspects of Coleridgean Aesthetic Theory:

According to some accounts, Xanadu is Paradise Regained and Kubla symbolises the creative artist who gives concrete expression to the ideal forms of truth and beauty; according to other accounts, however, Kubla is a self-indulgent materialist, a daemonic figure, who imposes his tyrannical will upon the natural world and so produces a false paradise of contrived artifice cut off from the realm of natura naturans by man-made walls and towers. The images of the Abyssinian maid and the inspired poet in the closing section of the poem also present serious difficulties in interpretation. The problem is not so much that of the conjectured identification of these figures (though this is often attempted) as of the overall meaning and intention of the passage. Should we believe, as Humphry House and Irene Chayes have urged, that this final section must be read as a „positive statement of the potentialities of poetry“ and a „prophecy of poetic triumph“? — or is Edward Bostetter correct in asserting that „Kubla Khan is a symbolic expression of [Coleridge’s] inability to realize his power as a poet . . . and the last lines are a quite explicit statement of frustration“? Scholarly disagreements such as these can be multiplied almost endlessly. In fact, the symbolic valency of virtually every image in the poem — the sacred river Alph, the substance and shadow of Kubla’s pleasure-dome, the ancestral voices prophesying war, and so on — has proved a source of unresolved (and unresolvable) debate; and it is probably no exaggeration to say that no single interpretation of Kubla Khan has ever wholly satisfied anyone except the person who proposed it.   Despite the popularity of the view that Kubla Khan is a poem about poetry, then, there is no consensus about just what is being said about the poetic process.

3. Freudian Interpretations:

A poem such as Kubla Khan — so provokingly enigmatic and so deliciously suggestive — also provides an irresistibly fertile ground for psychological speculation, especially on the part of Freudian critics. When Coleridge called the poem a „psychological curiosity“ in his 1816 Preface and confessed that Kubla Khan was the record of an actual dream, he unwittingly opened wide the door to analysts anxious to expound the latent psychological implications of his symphony and song. One of the earliest of the Freudian readings was offered in 1924 by Robert Graves, who proposed that Kubla Khan expressed Coleridge’s subconscious determination „to shun the mazy complications of life by retreating to a bower of poetry, solitude and opium“ — a serene refuge beyond the bitter reproaches of Mrs Coleridge (the woman who is wailing for her demon lover) and almost beyond the gloomy prophecies of addiction uttered by the „ancestral voices“ of Lamb and Charles Lloyd. By comparison with recent Freudian interpretations, this is pretty tame stuff. Nevertheless, it was enough to alert I.A. Richards almost immediately to the chilling possibilities of such an approach: „The reader acquainted with current methods of [psychological] analysis“, he warned, „can imagine the results of a thoroughgoing Freudian onslaught“.

In general, the Freudians treat Kubla Khan as an unconscious revelation of personal fantasies and repressed, usually erotic, urges; but there is little agreement about the precise nature of these subliminal drives. Douglas Angus argues that the poem illustrates a psychoneurotic pattern of narcissism that reflects Coleridge’s abnormal need for love and sympathy; Eugene Sloane, however, is convinced that „Kubla Khan is an elaborate development of a birth dream“, expressing an unconscious desire to return to the warmth and security of the womb. Still other readers prefer to follow Robert Graves by concentrating on what the poem implies about Coleridge’s experience with opium: James Bramwell reads Kubla Khan as „a dream-fable representing [Coleridge’s] conscience in the act of casting him out, spiritually and bodily, from the paradise of his opium paradise“; and Eli Marcovitz, who sets out to „treat [the poem] as we would a dream in our clinical practice“, confidently concludes that Kubla Khan is „almost a chart of the psychosexual history“ of a personality ineluctably embarked on the road to addiction:

„It depicts the life of the poet — his infancy and early childhood …the reaction to the death of his father at nine…and the attempt to cope with his life’s problems by the appeal to the muse and to opium.

Even this brief sampling illustrates clearly enough the limitations and liabilities of using Freudian keys to unlock the mysteries of Kubla Khan. In the first place, of course, there is no received consensus (as we have just seen) about precisely what the poem reveals about Coleridge’s subconscious mind. Nor is there agreement about the symbolic significance of the major images: is the stately pleasure-dome to be identified as the female breast (maternal or otherwise), or does it represent, as some think, the mons veneris?

And then there is the hapless Abyssinian maid, who has been variously identified as Coleridge’s muse, as his mother, as Mary Evans (an early flame), as Dorothy Wordsworth, and (since Abyssinian damsels are negroid) as the symbol of Coleridge’s repressed impulse toward miscegenation“. A second and more serious problem with many Freudian readings, as the foregoing examples make clear, is a tendency to ignore basic rules of evidence and to indulge, as a consequence, in strained and unwarranted speculation.  Another analyst, James F. Hoyle, interprets Coleridge’s enforced „retirement“ to the farmhouse near Porlock as „the neurotic person’s ‚vegetative retreat‘ to para-sympathetic preponderance with overstimulation of gastrointestinal functions, resulting in diarrhea“ — and then, as if this were not enough, goes on to conclude that the „costive opium“ taken to check the attack of dysentery „probably helped in converting depression to hypomania“ and so was instrumental in transforming „the diarrhea of [Coleridge’s] failure in poetry and life to the logorrhea of Kubla Khan„. A third problem with Freudian analysis is that, in general, it is more interested in the poet than in the poem and, in addition, often accords the 1816 Preface a stature at least equal to that of Kubla Khan itself. As with the source-studies examined in the previous section, Freudian readings use the poem largely as a pretext for exploring extrapoetic matters: the roads of psychological criticism customarily lead away from Xanadu into the charted and uncharted realms of the poet’s biography and subconscious psychosexual history.

4. Jungian Explanations:

Unlike the Freudians, who stress the psychological particularity of Kubla Khan, Jungian critics focus on the way in which the poem draws upon and perpetuates traditional images in which „the age-long memoried self“ is repeatedly embodied. Often the results of such an approach are illuminating and useful — largely because Jungian criticism, when it resists the reductivist temptation to explain away images with psychological tags, allows for ambiguities and the existence of half-seen truths. As Kathleen Raine points out in an engaging essay, Kubla Khan was „written in that exaltation of wonder which invariably accompanies moments of insight into the mystery upon whose surface we live“.

The earliest (and still probably the best) Jungian interpretation is found in Maud Bodkin’s Archetypal Patterns in Poetry (1934). Her argument, in essence, is that Kubla’s pleasant gardens and the forbidding caverns under them correspond „in some degree to the traditional ideas of Paradise and Hades“: „the image of the watered garden and the mountain height show some persistent affinity [in Western literature as a whole] with the desire and imaginative enjoyment of supreme well-being, or divine bliss, while the cavern depth appears as the objectification of an imaginative fear“. In Kubla Khan the heaven-hell pattern, presented as the vision of a poet inspired by the music of a mysterious maiden, evokes in the reader an „organic response“ (through the collective unconscious) to these atavistic emotional archetypes.   Subsequent Jungian critics have undertaken (with various degrees of success) to extend Bodkin’s thesis — by developing the implications of the Edenic archetype, by invoking Plato’s doctrine of anamnesis or recollection, and by analysing Kubla Khan as a descriptive illustration of Jung’s „individuation process“. There are, too, less respectably, some extreme Jungian (or pseudo-Jungian) interpretations:   for example, Robert Fleissner’s catachrestic argument for Kubla Khan as an „integrationist“ poem.

Criticism against the Poem

For the overwhelming majority of Coleridge’s contemporaries, Kubla Khan seemed to be no better than nonsense, and they dismissed it contemptuously. In fact, when first published, many contemporary reviewers regarded the poem as „nonsense,“ especially because of its fragmentary nature. As Charles Lamb said in his „Letter to Wordsworth“ in 1816 and I found this information on the website named- www.english.uga.edu,

„There is an observation Never tell thy dreams, and I am almost afraid that Kubla Khan is an owl that wont bear day light, I fear lest it should be discovered by the lantern of typography & clear reducting to letters, no better than nonsense or no sense.“

„The poem itself is below criticism“, declared the anonymous reviewer in the Monthly Review (Jan 1817); and Thomas Moore, writing in the Edinburgh Review (Sep 1816), tartly asserted that „the thing now before us, is utterly destitute of value“ and he defied „any man to point out a passage of poetical merit“ in it. While derisive asperity of this sort is the common fare of most of the early reviews, there are, nevertheless, contemporary readers whose response is both sympathetic and positive — even though they value the poem for its rich and bewitching suggestiveness rather than for any discernible „meaning“ that it might possess. Charles Lamb, for example, speaks fondly of hearing Coleridge recite Kubla Khan „so enchantingly that it irradiates & brings heaven & Elysian bowers into my parlour while he sings or says it“; and Leigh Hunt turns hopefully to analogies in music and painting in an effort to describe the poem’s haunting but indefinable effect:

„‘Kubla Khan‘ is a voice and a vision, an everlasting tune in our mouths, a dream fit for Cambuscan and all his poets, a dance of pictures such as Giotto or Cimabue, revived and re-inspired, would have made for a Storie of Old Tartarie, a piece of the invisible world made visible by a sun at midnight and sliding before our eyes.“

The summary of criticism in has not, of course, exhausted the diversity of approaches to Kubla Khan.   During the past fifty years, however, criticism has been less and less willing to accept the view that Kubla Khan defies rational analysis: the poem, it is widely assumed, must have a meaning, and the purpose of criticism is to discover what that meaning is, or might be. Yet despite this decisive shift in the critical temper, there remain some influential voices to argue for the mystery of Kubla Khan. William Walsh, for example, maintains that it is „an ecstatic spasm, a pure spurt of romantic inspiration“; and Lawrence Hanson treats it as an instance of „pure lyricism — sound, picture, sensation — clothed in the sensuous beauty of imagery that none knew so well as its author how to evoke“. Elisabeth Schneider, too, suggests that a good part of the poem’s charm and power derives from the fact that it is invested with „an air of meaning rather than meaning itself“. Such opinions, while they are hardly fashionable in the current critical climate, ought not to be dismissed too lightly or seen to be no more than evasions of critical responsibility. On the contrary, they remind us that not everything about poetry is wholly explicable — especially in such poems as Kubla Khan, where „meaning“ is not a formulated idea and is, at best, only adumbrated through oblique and suggestive imagery. It may well be that more is meant in Kubla Khan than meets the ear, but it is by no means easy to determine precisely what that meaning might be. And the impulse of literary critical professionalism to demystify, to reduce imaginative to merely rational statements, results too often in a kind of inversion of the alchemist’s dream: it debases gold into lead by transforming complex symbols into simple allegories.

„Kubla Khan“ also been read as a landscape-poem and as a poetical day-dream; there are provocative interpretations of it as a political statement contrasting the profane power of the state with the sacred power of the poet; and there are theological readings — quite important ones, in fact — which explore the visionary and apocalyptic theme of fallen man’s yearning to recover the lost Paradise. What, then, shall we say of Kubla Khan? — that it has too much meaning, or too many meanings, or (perhaps) no meaning at all?   Grammatici certant et adhuc sub iudice lis est:  critics dispute, and the case is still before the courts (Horace, Ars Poetica, 78). In the circumstances, I will not presume to render a verdict, but merely to offer some advice. Literary criticism has more and more become a science of solutions. When a lurking mystery is discovered, analytical floodlights are trained upon it to dispel the shadows and open its dark recesses.

Supporting Coleridge’s Viewpoint

Coleridge begins his preface by claiming that another title might be „A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment,“ but that the poem itself seems complete. This is akin to a young artist claiming that his art is not yet perfected, and then parting the proverbial curtain to reveal a painting of such skill that the ancient masters might have envied. This may be done to defend the poem, which has relatively of what typifies Romantic poetry, against the attacks of critics in Coleridge’s own day, as it does not seem to be true about the poem itself.

By attributing the images of „Kubla Khan“ to a dream (identified later as a drug-induced reverie), Coleridge allows people to dream a bit themselves as they read the poem, something forgotten in the Neo-Classical period, but seeing something of a rebirth with the Romantics. Imagination is the key to „Kubla Khan,“ and is the source from which it stems. The work Purchas his Pilgrimage is in part to blame (or praise) for Coleridge’s dream, according to the introduction, because the plot of the poem resides within it, and was his last thought before falling into sleep.

As Benjamin Franklin once claimed to do, Coleridge goes on to quote himself with much gravity. His carefully cited poem tells how, though his concentration was broken, the great dream he had known would come to light again. He makes excuse as to why his poem has not yet reflected the true image of his dream, and lets readers make do with what fragments he can attach to the fleeting reminders that remain.

„In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree,“ the poem begins. The cadence of the words is unmistakable, and the words seem to have a power of their own. Where is this place, this Xanadu, readers ask themselves, and what of Kubla Khan? Intelligent readers might recognize Kubla from Chinese history, the warlord who began the Mongol dynasty. Those who do not look too deeply, see instead the wonder of fantastic times and places, enjoying more and thinking somewhat less. A stately pleasure-dome, these readers postulate, is not such a bad idea at all, perhaps I shall make one for myself.

The power of Kubla Khan (as indeed of „Kubla Khan“) is implied rather than stated. Coleridge does not describe a stately throne or golden crown, but simply that Kubla has the power to create by will alone. This is much like Coleridge’s own power in the creation of „Kubla Khan“ and of all poets to their works. A pleasure-dome is made because Kubla wishes it to be so. Through his mind’s eye and his vast imagination, Kubla has envisioned a great dome girdling miles of beautiful nature. By will and imagination, Kubla subdues nature and makes it an object of his own. This would not have won Kubla any points with Coleridge’s friend Wordsworth, and perhaps it is that very voice of Coleridge’s Romantic ancestor that later prophesies war.

There are two blemishes on Kubla’s power, outside forces that run deep and confound even the great builder. The first mystical blight on Kubla’s world is a chasm running through the hills and forests. It is a magical place that seems to breathe, and erupts into violent spasms, coughing up vast chunks of earth. This chasm disturbs the river upon which Kubla has constructed his great walls and towers, and thus disturbs Kubla himself. It seems as though this chasm might be the result of an earthquake, a primal natural force, that changes forever the Alpheus‘ course. The river runs a similar course, through wood and dale to deep dank caverns, but its tumult, which was once within Kubla’s realm, is now heard from far. The shadow of Kubla’s dome, which once girdled the whole of a beautiful stretch of nature, fed by the river, now falls midway upon the waves it once encircled.

If the chasm did alter the course of the river (it is rather difficult to say for certain from the poem itself), then this could symbolize the power of nature to overcome the ingenuity of man. Like the theme of Jurassic Park, this implies that man’s imagination might be better spent on more innocent pursuits, and that perhaps nature has a wisdom of her own that humanity ought to let lie. The chasm, whether or not it affects directly the river, does have a negative effect on Kubla, for it is during the eruption of the chasm that he hears of an impending war.

The second dark force in Kubla’s life is the prophecy of doom. Sounded by ancestral voices crying out to Kubla, war is prophesied, but is not seen in the poem. Instead, the poem changes to the first person, praising the idea of the pleasure-dome and wishing to build the dome in air. This seems to be Coleridge lamenting the loss of his vision, and claiming that if it were to be had again that he could do great things with it. This opium-induced dream never does return, or if it does it was never put to paper, for as Coleridge says more than fifteen years after the work’s composition, „the to-morrow in yet to come.“

If imagination is the basis for the poem, power is the theme. Kubla, for all his might and majesty, faces the fact that he is not a god. Coleridge, on realizing that his dream has faded with time, and that he may never reach the truest form of it by description and poetry, realizes that he too is not a god. Like in the „Rime of the Ancient Mariner,“ Coleridge creates a situation and a world that are entirely his own. The power of creation, „Kubla Khan“ warns, is the danger of overextending one’s boundaries. Kubla became mad with power, and nature struck him down, while Coleridge felt the ultimate muse brush past him, leaving him with fragments of what might have been.

I think we must learn to take the poem on its own terms and, instead of attempting 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“.


Many critical opinions state that the poem „Kubla Khan“ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is nothing more than a poetic fragment resulting from a drug induced dream. This notion is understandable because his life was plagued by ill health and very public drug abuse. This same negative attitude often extended to Coleridge’s poetry. After reading the poem, one can see that the poem is much more than that.

My remarks and my reflections on this topic arise from a very simple fact: this life we have, this beauty that we have around us, Coleridge seems to say, is enough. It needs not to be captured, nor does it need to be fully explored to understand its nature. It is by overreaching the power that God grants to men that each will find his downfall. The poem „Kubla Khan“ is about poetry and art in general. It is about power and rulership. It is about living to fulfillment, and not being dissatisfied when we come near our mark but fall just short. Hence, „Kubla Khan“ is a complex and carefully organized work that illustrates Coleridge’s poetic principals. My plea, in short, is that we should not destroy the poem in criticism, but enjoy it for itself, please.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund (1920). Dream Psychology, translated into English by M.D. Eder.

Lamb, Charles (26 Apr 1816). „Letter to Wordsworth“ :   LL, iii 215. http://www.english.uga.edu/~nhilton/232/stc/comp3f.htm

Wordsworth, William & Coleridge, S. T.  (2003). Lyrical Ballads & Other Poems.

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