Kubla Khan Summary,Analysis, Explanation
1. Dates of Composition and Publication :[Kubla Khan summary]
The poem Kubla Khan was written sometime in 1797. It was, however, published first long after in 1816 at the personal initiative of Lord Byron.
2. The Occasion of the Composition :
There is a quite fascinating story behind the composition of the poem Kubla Khan, That may be recalled from Coleridge’s own account.
In the summer of 1797, Coleridge, subjected to an acute ailment, was living in a lonely farm-house somewhere between Somerset and Devenshire. On a specific occasion, under the effect of a drug, administered to him for a relief, he fell asleep in his chair , while reading Purchas’s-His Pilgrimage, and particularly the account of the order of Kubla Khan, the mighty Mongolian Emperor, to build a big pleasurepalace and a stately garden thereunto, which was of the fertile ground of ten miles long, enclosed with a high wall.
The poet remained profoundly asleep for a long spell of about three hours. During that time of his sleep he was supposed to have a dream of diverse images of Kubla Khan’s pleasure-dome and its surroundings. On getting awakened, he had a vivid recollection of his whole dream-vision and he attempted forthwith to write down the poem. Unfortunately, at that very time, a visitor came to meet him on an urgent matter.
He was detained by the visitor about an hour. When he returned to his room and tried to complete the poem, he found, to his deep mortification, that, except a few lines and images, he had forgotten the whole. Yet, from the still surviving recollections in his mind, he frequently tried to finish the poem, as originally his purpose had been. But he could hardly succeed in his venture, and the poem, as available at present, remains somewhat fragmentary, incoherent. As a result, Kubla Khan is taken today as an ‘inspired incoherence,’ ‘a piece of verbal magic’, ‘a collection of images that has no pertinent sense in a singleness of effect!
It is to be noted in this connection that The Road to Xanadu by John Livingstone Lowes contains a valuable analysis of the poem and the sources of its inspiration.
3. An Analytical and Critical Summary :
I. Kubla Khan’s command :
Kubla Khan, the great Mongolian monarch once ordered for the erection of a magnificent pleasure palace for him in his summer capital Xanadu where the sacred river Alph had its course through immeasurable caves to fall finally into a dark subterranean sea. A fertile tract of land, measuring about ten miles was enclosed with walls and towers. That area of land, was enriched with winding streams, fragrant gardens, tall forests, around grassy valleys.
The beginning is somewhat dramatic, but the images conceived are quite precise yet vivid, and well bespeak Coleridge’s romantic art to vivify natural scenes. (lines 1-11)
II. The source and the course of the sacred river Alph:
The poet next traces the source and the course of the sacred river Alph. That river came out of a mighty fountain, rushing out of a chasm intermittently. That chasm, deep enough and mysterious in appearance, slanted down a green hill across a screen made by cedar trees. The water from the fountain, as it gushed out, threw the huge pieces of rocks all around. It was from here that the river Alph came out.
It flowed down, with a meandering course, for five miles, through valleys and woods. It thereafter entered some deep caves and finally fell into a dark sea with a loud, tumultous noise. Amid that tumultous noise, Kubla Khan could hear the distant voices of his ancestors, warning him against the coming war to shake his power. source and the course of the river was quite engaging,
The description of the although the total imagery was somewhat mingled up and confused. In fact, Coleridge’s verbal magic somewhat disturbs his graphic imagery. Moreover, the matter of prophecies by Kubla Khan’s ancestors does not seem properly connected with the theme, and appears rather far-fetched, like their far-off voices. (Lines 12-30)
III. The pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan :
Kubla Khan’s pleasure-dome was a work of rare skill. It was all sunny with the icy caves around. Its shadow fell and floated midway on the river. The mingled sounds from the fountain and the caves could be heard from here.
The picture of the pleasure-dome, with sun-shine and icy-caves, is well executed and exhibit the marvel of Coleridge’s imagination as rare as the device of the dome itself. (Lines 31-36)
IV. The poet caught in a spell of poetic inspiration :
Thereafter the poet’s theme has an abrupt change. He now refers to his vision of an Abyssinian maid, playing on her instrument dulcimer and singing of the mountain Abora. The poet, much touched by her music and song, wishes to have her wild inspiration and to build that dome of pleasure with all its rarity, by means of his imaginative power. His poetic creation in that case is certain to enchant and spell all his listeners and lead them to take him as spelled to transcend this mundane existence and turn into a super-human being.
This is a detached portion, a fragment, and may be taken as the second part of the poem. Coleridge’s theme here is a poet, caught in a spell of poetic inspiration. This seems to have nothing to do with the scene of enchantment of Kubla’s pleasuredome. The abrupt change in the subject-matter definitely affects the unity of the poem and its artistic impression. (Lines 37-54)
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