Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Summary of Kubla Khan

Popularity of “Kubla Khan”: A highly visionary poem of S. T. Coleridge, “Kubla Khan” is a masterpiece of romantic poetry published in 1816, and it still maintains its romantic appeal and artistic touch, though. Originally, it was written to describe a luxurious palace of a Chinese king, Kubla Khan, about which the poet has read somewhere. The poet has won accolades due to its appealing imagery and the way he has painted a lively and perfect picture of that palace.

“Kubla Khan” a Representation of a Dream: The poem explores art and romanticism used to paint a dream world. The expression of beauty runs throughout the poem. Coleridge has skillfully applied the “willing suspension of disbelief”, despite knowing that the palace is a dreamland. He has presented it to enchant the readers and to inspire by describing the delightful and mesmerizing beauty of a dream.

Major Themes in “Kubla Khan”: The poem comprises diverse themes. True to its romantic tradition, it presents various versions of the reality of the palace the poet has presented through his imagination. The second theme is of the man and his significance in the natural world as depicted by Kubla Khan himself. The concept of time as well as the permanence of art, too are its other thematic strands presented by Coleridge.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Kubla Khan”

Literary devices such as similes, personification, and irony are very important elements of any literary text. These devices bring richness and clarity to the text. In addition, the use of literary devices makes the text life like so that a reader can use imagination like “Kubla Khan.” Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

1)    Simile: Simile is a figure of speech in which two things with different qualities are compared to present a vivid description of an object or a person. There is one simile used in the poem in line 21 such as “huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail.” The fragments have been compared to pieces of hailstorm to show their impacts.

2)    Personification: Personification is attribution of human qualities to an inanimate object. Coleridge has used personification in the first stanza where he states, “as if this earth in fast thick pant was breathing,” comparing the earth to a breathing human being. He also has personified rocks in line 23 as “the dancing rocks.” Dancing is a human characteristic, but the poet has attributed this quality to rocks. 

3)    Metaphor: There are two metaphors in the poem. First is used in the twelfth line where it is “deep romantic chasm.” Here the “deep romantic chasm” represents the creativity and deep imagination of the poet. Second is used in the last stanza such as “woman wailing for her demon-lover.” Here “wait” metaphorically represents the desire for love.

4)    Synecdoche: Synecdoche is a literary device in which a part of something represents the whole. Coleridge has used synecdoche in line 19 such as “A mighty fountain momentarily was forced” where the fountain has been used for the waterfall or the streamlet that is coming out of a gorge with force.

5)    Assonance: Assonance is a repetition of the vowel sounds in the same line such as the sounds of /e/ in “deep delight”, “A stately pleasure-dome decree” and /a/ sound in “Through caverns measureless to man.”

6)    Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds such as /d/ sound in “deep delight”, /t/ in “fast thick pants breathing” and /f/ sound in “from the fountain.”

7)    Apostrophe: Apostrophe is a device used to call somebody or something from afar. Here the poet has used an apostrophe to warn someone “Beware! Beware!” which means that he is calling some anonymous person to be on the alert.

9)    Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same lines of verse such as the use of /s/ sound in “sympathy and song.”

The analysis shows that Coleridge’s use of literary devices has helped him present a complete and luxurious picture of the palace of Kubla Khan and the beauty in that realm.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Kubla Khan”

Although most of the poetic devices share the same qualities with literary devices, there are some which can only be used in the poetry. The analysis of some of the poetic devices is given below.

1)    Stanza: The poem is structured in two parts and four stanzas. The poet has applied the mix of tetrameter and pentameter to these undefined stanzas.

2)    Rhyme Scheme: As the poem does not follow any organized structure, hence the rhyme scheme varies from stanza to stanza.

3)    Rhyming Iambic Meter: It means that meter has no regular feet in each line. There are four or five meters in some lines such as the first two lines are in tetrameter, but lines 8 and 9 are in pentameter.

4)    Repetition: There is a repetition of the phrase “pleasure doom” that enhances the musical quality of the poem.

5)    Refrain: The lines that are repeated at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The words “caverns measureless to man” are repeated and used as a refrain in line 4 and 29 with the same words.

This analysis shows that the poet has made skillful use of refrains, meter, and stanza forms to reach his goal to describe a dream.

Quotations for Usage from “Kubla Khan”

  1. The given lines could be quoted when teaching about supernatural objects. Such incidents often make people cry and scream out of fear.

“And all who heard should see them there,

And all should cry, Beware! Beware!”

  1. These two lines could be used in speech to tell about some past adventure or expedition to some wonderland.

“It was a miracle of rare device,

A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”