Summary of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.


Kubla Khan, the great oriental king, once ordered that a magnificent pleasure palace be built for him in Xanadu where the sacred river Alph winding its course through immeasurably deep caves ultimately sank into a dark, subterranean sea. So a fertile tract of land, about ten square miles in area, was enclosed with walls and towers. This piece of land, with streams meandering their way through bright gardens and ancient forests enclosing bright green spots, presented a spectacle of rich profusion.

Next, the poet describes the source of the river Alph. There was a deep, mysterious-looking, awe-inspiring chasm that slanted down a green hill across a screen made by cedar trees. It was a savage, holy and enchanted place, the kind of place frequented by a woman desperately wandering about in the light of a waning moon, in search of her demon lover, who, after making love to her, deserts her. A mighty fountain issued from this chasm intermittently. As the water gushed out, it flung about huge pieces of rock in grain flings about under the thresher’s flail. The river Alph, issuing from this entered the deep caves and finally sank into the sunless sea with a loud, the voices of his ancestors predicting a war in the near future and extorting him to be prepared for it. The dome presented a great marvel of human skill. It was a sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice and its shadow fell midway on the rive. While standing here, one could hear the mingled noises from the fountain and the caves.

In the second part of the poem, Coleridge gives us a vivid picture of a poet caught in a spell of poetic inspiration. Once, in a vision, he saw an Abyssinian maid playing on her dulcimer and singing of the wild splendour of Mount Abora. It was a beautiful song indeed. The poet says that if he could recreate in his imagination the sweet music of the Abyssinian maid, it would give him such an ecstatic joy and he would feel so inspired that with the music of his poetry he would build Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome it in the air. In other words, he would give such a vivid description of the pleasure dome that his listeners would actually begin to see in their imagination. They would then regard him as a mighty magician, a superhuman being who has fed on honeydew and drunk the milk of paradise. They would mark his flashing eyes in holy dread. The idea is that a poet caught in a spell of poetic inspiration transcends his mundane existence and becomes a superhuman being.

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