Explanation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


Lines 1-11

Kubla Khan ordered a magnificent pleasure palace to be built for him in Xanadu. The palace was to be situated on the bank of the sacred river Alph, which, flowing through immeasurably deep caves, ultimately sank into a dark, subterranean sea. So, a piece of fertile land, ten square miles in area, was enclosed with walls and towers. This place had bright gardens, winding steams and aromatic trees bearing sweet-smelling flowers. There were also forests as old as hills, enclosing in their midst sunny spaces full of green spots.

Lines 12-16

The most remarkable thing at this place was a deep, mysterious gorge that ran down the slope of a green hill across a wood of cedar trees. It was a wild and awe-inspiring place as holy and bewitched as the one haunted by a woman wandering about in search of her demon-lover in the dim light of a waning moon. (The demon appeared to the woman as her lover and after having made love to her deserted her. The woman, unable to forget him but fully realising that he was a demon haunts such wild places to look for him.)

Lines 17-24

A powerful spring of water gushed forth from this gorge at momentary intervals making an incessant roaring sound. The spring violently emitting huge masses of water looked like the heavily gasping earth. The powerful outbursts of water threw up huge fragments of rocks that fell on the earth and rebounded like hailstones striking the earth and flying off or like grains leaping up from the earth when beaten with a flail by a farmer trying to separate them from chaff.

Lines 25-35

The sacred river Alph followed a five mile long winding course through woods and valleys. Then it entered the immeasurably deep caves and finally sank in the dead sea producing a loud noise. Amidst this noise, Kubla Khan heard the voices of his ancestors prophesying future wars. The pleasure palace was built somewhere midway between mighty spring and the caves measureless to man. From the palace could be heard the mixed sounds of the water gushing forth from the spring and the water noisily flowing through the caves. The pleasure palace was a specimen of amazing architectural skill. It had sunny domes but icy cold underground vaults.

Lines 36-54

Once in a strange vision, the poet saw an Abyssinian maid playing on her dulcimer and singing a sweet song about Mount Abora. The poet says that if he could recapture the sweet melody of the Abyssinian maid, it would fill him with such a divine inspiration that he would write powerful poetry to give a vivid description of Kubla Khan’s pleasure palace and all those who heard him would be able to see that palace in the air (in their imagination). They would, then, think of the poet as a mighty magician. They would see his floating hair and his flashing eyes and would be filled with great awe and fear. They would go around him thrice to protect themselves from his magical powers. His poetic frenzy would make them think that he was a superhuman being fed on the honey-dew and the milk of paradise and they would warn one another to keep away from him.

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