Analysis of the Poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The poem “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge depicts a mighty Mongol emperor, Kubla Khan and his interaction with nature. The author makes a reader immerse into the plot while portraying the world of reality and imagination. In this case, he glorifies the palace of the emperor and praises the surrounding. In this case, a natural harmony and the power of Kubla Khan create a mysterious atmosphere based on a strange perception of the speaker. Thus, the primary theme of the poem refers to a close interconnection between the man and nature through the vision of a dream.


In the poem “Kubla Khan”, Coleridge portrays the past based on the mastery of the Mongol emperor and his love for nature. He “emerged with an epic poem about a fantastical paradise”. The title of the poem shows that the author devotes the entire plot to Kubla Khan and his mastery through the illustration of nature. The lines “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan/ A stately pleasure-dome decree” describe an amazing setting of the emperor’s home. It means that a man built a beautiful dome himself, and therefore, he is proud of his male deed. It is evident that the narrator expresses his personal impressions while reflecting the beauty of the environment and the setting as well. He illustrates nature in a detailed way to pay one’s attention to the position of Xanadu. It often seems that something unreal and lifeless covers his representation. For instance, he indicates, “Where Alph, the sacred river, ran/ Through caverns measureless to man/ Down to a sunless sea”. The reader may perceive these words controversially due to the combination of alive and fading images. The point is that “the sacred river” is a precise symbol of life, and “a sunless sea” defines the lack of joy around. It also makes the reader muse on its disappearance. It is understandable that the river, the sun, and the sea are eternal eyewitnesses of the all ancient events happened around them. Eventually, these particular images contribute to the representation of this place and its history.  

The speaker demonstrates the mighty of the palace through various images which protect it from unexpected enemies for years. In this case, the ground, walls, and towers resemble the so-called warriors as they also perform the function of defense. Additionally, they symbolize happiness and safety. It means that no one has the ability to penetrate the palace in order to invade it. The lines “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” create a positive tone referred to a beautiful language. These sound even ordinary and simple at the same time to emphasize the author’s concept of diction. It is evident that the surrounding is full of everlasting harmony based on the existent peace. All the images including bright trees, sunny spots, and the hills develop imagery which helps the reader to perceive the world of reality and imagination. They are everlasting symbols of eternity related to the existence of nature which keeps all the necessary events from the past. As a result, one may assume that there is a particular difference between the outside world and that one which exists inside the palace. Unfortunately, the world of nature is strange and wild but not in Xanadu. 

The landscapes are an integral part of the storyline as all images reinforce the meaning of a thorough description of the environment. The speaker gradually changes the illustration of peace and harmony to the picture of the scary natural surroundings. The speaker returns to the observation of the river as a real a person with appropriate human features. The man attempts to show that the river embraces the palace as flows around the hills. It has a violent and aggressive character demonstrated through its “deep romantic chasm”. It looks like a woman who focuses on her treacherous plans to point out anyone’s place. Moreover, Alph attracts the reader’s attention being unable to oppose its influence. In this case, the word “romantic” reveals that the river reigns over the man as all his thoughts relate to its chasm. Even though the place is considered to be holy and precious to the narrator, he does not hide his feelings related to the river. Of course, he personifies Alph because of its natural beauty and power. This unusual comparison of the river with the woman makes the plot mysterious and amazing at the same time. A female image gives a hint of a romantic relationship between the narrator and the woman. In fact, the river becomes to resemble the woman who follows the man everywhere, and therefore, becomes a new character in the poem. The words “As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted/ By woman wailing for her demon-lover!” show that he perceives the woman as the ghost. Perhaps, the demon-lover is a symbol of an evil spirit connected with the cursed love. The only eyewitness is the moon that gets smaller to disappear. 

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Nature including the river becomes the narrator’s obsession as it fills his mind with numerous positive and negative feelings. The man continues mentioning the river, but he begins to concentrate on the fountain. In fact, it is nothing more than the revelation of the river. He indicates that water is uncontrollable due to its boundless power and physical strength. However, the speaker also mentions the earth, which has something in common with a breathing animal. Additionally, the line “As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing” has a metaphorical meaning referred to the portrayal of the earth. One may notice that the man personifies it as well. All natural images seem to be alive. Eventually, it causes an irresistible desire to experience the feelings of the speaker who longs for a perfect unity with nature. Moreover, the lines “And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever/ It flung up momently the sacred river” also emphasize that the man adores nature, and therefore, he personifies each natural image. Lastly, even the rocks start dancing and get human characteristics as other images. Undoubtedly, all of them master the narrator’s soul and heart as he compares them with people making them even better. These are holy and eternal in contrast to the humankind.

The speaker takes a significant place while representing his own vision of nature through a mysterious dream of reality and imagination. The reader gradually understands that such a detailed description of nature appears from the perspective of an individual who completely belongs to Xanadu. It is his favorite place, and therefore, he knows each natural image. At times, he shares quite strange emotions, but he always proves them with visual images. In this case, it is possible to assume that the man struggles with his personal conflict while representing a dramatic effect of nature. However, the reader may still wonder why the ocean is lifeless. It is hard to understand who is to blame indeed. Perhaps, the river is guilty it intensively rushes to the stream instead of joining the ocean. There are some inexplicable secrets, and no one has the right to learn the truth. Its sense belongs to nature. The point is that the line “That sunny dome, those caves of ice” bothers him like a torture. Thus, he unites the sun and ice together, despite the fact that it does not make any sense. If there is the sun, there will be no ice. 

Almost nothing is said about the war, but the reader understands that its horrible consequences contributed to the existence of the lifeless ocean. The words “And ‘mid this tumult Kubla heard from far/ Ancestral voices prophesying war!” emphasize that the emperor is aware of the past events. He has the ability to listen to the river, which reminds him about the voices of his ancestors. Later, the man recollects another symbol from the past. It is a young beautiful girl whose beauty and songs capture his mind as well. According to his new vision, she is an Abyssinian maid who sings about a new place, Mount Abora. It seems that the speaker portrays his own visions and dreams unknown to others. Additionally, the poem is based on iambic meter, and it contains many rhymes which merely reinforce the hidden implication of the speaker’s monolog. For instance, such rhymes as “decree”-“sea”- “tree”, “rills”-“hills”, “seething”-“breathing”, and “hail”-“flail” help the reader understand the importance of the images and their impact on the narrator. On the other hand, this structure makes the poem sound simple and understandable even if there are some mysterious moments related to the speaker’s perception.

In conclusion, “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is an incredible poem which depicts the world of nature through the illustration of reality and imagination. The narrator closely interacts with nature while existing in his own world of dreams filled with a boundless amount of various images. The man personifies the environment as he tries to demonstrate his attitude towards the surrounding which is a part of him. Undoubtedly, the author manages to open the primary theme by using symbolism and imagery that contribute to the creation of an interesting structure to observe.

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