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Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan



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In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” the poet creates images of an otherworldly dream life that can produce a paradise, or lead to a “deep romantic chasm” that becomes as inescapable as the dream itself...
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” the poet creates images of an otherworldly dream life that can produce a paradise, or lead to a “deep romantic chasm” that becomes as inescapable as the dream itself...

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Published by: api-3703506 on Oct 18, 2008
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Gloria LloydEnglish 431March 31, 2005
 A Vision in a Dream: Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” 
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” the poet creates images of anotherworldly dream life that can produce a paradise, or lead to a “deep romantic chasm”that becomes as inescapable as the dream itself (Coleridge 12). Coleridge writes in the prologue that the poem was created in a dream induced by opium, but he could onlyreproduce a fragment of it after a man from Porlock interrupted his reverie. The poemwas not just created by the unconscious mind; it also represents how the unconsciousworld of dreams and altered states can exert itself over an entire landscape or existence.Through the unusual circumstances of its creation, and in its portrayal of Xanadu’sdestruction, “Kubla Khan” displays the power of the unconscious to consume theconscious mind. The realm of the unconscious, the “caverns measureless to man,” arenot only measureless but uncontrollable, thus leading to the savage underworld of themind (4). After experiencing this, the narrator wants nothing more than to return to it.Dreams, indeed, hold a unique power.The fact that the poem was created in Coleridge’s altered state of consciousness,rather than a state of “normality” implies that the poem is of an otherworldly existence— Xanadu is not of this world, and did not exist before Coleridge’s mind achieved theopium-laced state in which it could be manifested. In the beginning, the incarnation of Kubla Khan seems to represent the more conscious, literal mind, but after the Alph runs“through caverns measureless to man,” the emphasis is more on a world that dreams can1
 present, rather than an everyday existence (4). To travel to a “sunless sea” is to traveldeep into the realm of the subconscious. To enter “forests ancient as the hills,” one mustenter another world, the realm of dreams (10). Throughout, Coleridge creates entirelynew vistas of imagery for the reader to encounter. The poem
to be created by opium,an outside influence, rather than Coleridge, and can exist only in the imagination, becauseof its many paradoxes. The “sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”, with the imagesof hot and cold juxtaposed, would not be found any place on this planet.The poem also focuses on how the world of dreams can suddenly supersede our usual thoughts. When a “mighty fountain momently was forced,” and emits “hugefragments vaulted like rebounding hail,” a comparison can be made to how thesubconscious mind takes over the conscious mind in dreams (19, 21). The “swift half-intermitted burst” exemplifies the sporadic dream, the dream that is not expected but cantake over and interrupt one’s entire existence, as the eruption of the fountain destroysKubla Khan’s paradise (20). Like the conscious mind, the river returns to normal,“meandering with a mazy motion” and leading to a “lifeless ocean” (25, 28). The sacredriver leads to the “sunless sea,” which implies that despite everything a personexperiences in an altered state, from dreams or drugs or something else, and no matter what a person learns, all of these experiences only lead back to this sea without a sun andocean without life, the conscious mind, and the experiences will be lost.Kubla Khan build a “sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!” (36) This marriageof opposites hint that the pleasure dome is not all that it may appear to be by its name, just as Coleridge’s vision or hallucination is not all that it seems to be on the surface.Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome does not merely bring him pleasure, but pain, too. Initially,2
Khan’s palace is in a “deep romantic chasm which slanted/ Down the green hill”—not ascary chasm, but instead a manifestation of the palace’s majesty, overlooking Khan’sterritory (12-13). In the next line, however, the chasm devolves into a “savage place”with “ceaseless turmoil seething” (14, 17). The pleasure-dome’s veneer is beautiful and pure, but under its surface lies chaos and disorder. Penetrating the deepest layers of thesubconscious mind can often have the same effect—the “shadow of the dome of  pleasure” is often pain (31). The woman wailing for her lost lover in line 16 is anappropriate image for the dream state, for Coleridge and the poem— dreams are fragileand are at best usually remembered vaguely, haunting the dreamer with a sense of loss for what the dreamer once fully possessed in the dream. The desire that humans all have for what is lost to them become the ravings of the unconscious, an individual incarnation of the “woman wailing for her demon-lover” (16).In a further display of the palace’s ambiguity, Coleridge consistently describes thesurroundings as green: “sunny spots of greenery” enfold the palace. Green brings tomind nature and fertility, but it also is the color of jealousy and sickness. Green, asopposed to colors of ambiguity, such as gray, or evil, such as black, possesses more dualmeaning. The “green hill,” therefore, is a symbol of nature and hope at the same timethat it represents all that is wrong with Xanadu, and with the dream state—which can leadus to dark places our conscious minds will not allow us to explore. The unhappy endingof the poem can be related to the struggle in each of our minds between the consciousand the unconscious, the battle that Coleridge lost with a knock on the door. “Could Irevive within me/ Her symphony and song/ To such a deep delight ‘twould win me”— 3

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