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 and Analysis

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 tress. 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, once 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 dulciner and singing of the wild splendor 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 super human 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 inspirational transcends his mundane existence and becomes a superhuman being.

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