Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)
“Kubla Khan” Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The following entry presents criticism of Coleridge's poem “Kubla Khan” (1816). See also, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Criticism" and Lyrical Ballads Criticism.
Along with “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798) and “Christabel” (1816), “Kubla Khan” (1816) has been widely acclaimed as one of Coleridge's most significant works. While Coleridge himself referred to “Kubla Khan” as a fragment, the vivid images contained in the work have garnered extensive critical attention through the years, and it has long been acknowledged as a poetic representation of Coleridge's theories of the imagination and creation. Although it was not published until 1816, scholars agree that the work was composed between 1797 and 1800. At the time of its publication, Coleridge subtitled it “A Vision in A Dream: A Fragment,” and added a prefatory note explaining the unusual origin of the work. The poet explained that after taking some opium for medication, he grew drowsy while reading a passage about the court of Kubla Khan from Samuel Purchas's Pilgrimage. In this dreamlike state, Coleridge related, he composed a few hundred lines of poetry and when he awoke, immediately began writing the verses down. Unfortunately, a visitor interrupted him, and when the poet had a chance to return to his writing, the images had fled, leaving him with only vague recollections and the remaining 54 lines of this fragmentary poem. Although many critics have since challenged Coleridge's version of the poem's composition, critical scholarship on the work has focused equally on its fragmentary nature and on its place in Romantic writing as a representative work of poetic theory.
Plot and Major Characters
The poem begins with a description of a magnificent palace built by Mongolian ruler Kubla Khan during the thirteenth century. The “pleasure dome” described in the first few lines of the poem is reflective of Kubla's power, and the description of the palace and its surroundings also help convey the character and nature of Kubla, the poem's main character. In contrast to the palace and its planned gardens, the space outside Kubla's domain is characterized by ancient forests and rivers, providing a majestic backdrop to Kubla's creation. It initially appears that there is harmony between the two worlds, but the narrator then describes a deep crack in the earth, hidden under a grove of dense trees. The tenor of the poem then changes from the sense of calm and balance described in the first few lines, to an uneasy sense of the pagan and the supernatural. There is a vast distance between the ordered world of Kubla's palace and this wild, untamed place, the source of the fountain that feeds the river flowing through the rocks, forests, and ultimately, the stately garden of Kubla Khan. As the river moves from the deep, uncontrolled chasm described in earlier lines back to Kubla's world, the narrative shifts from third person to first person; the poet then describes his own vision and his own sense of power that comes from successful poetic creation.
Despite the controversy surrounding the origin of “Kubla Khan,” most critics acknowledge that the images, motifs and ideas explored in the work are representative of Romantic poetry. The emphasis on the Oriental setting of “Kubla Khan” in contrast to the description of the sacred world of the river is interpreted by critics as commonplace understanding of orthodox Christianity at the turn of the century, when the Orient was seen as the initial step towards Western Christianity. Also typical of other Romantic poems is Coleridge's lyrical representation of the landscape, which is both the source and keeper of the poetic imagination. Detailed readings of “Kubla Khan” indicate the use of intricate metric and poetic devices in the work. Coleridge himself explained that while any work with rhyme and rhythm may be described as a poem, for the work to be “legitimate” each part must mutually support and enhance the other, coming together as a harmonious whole. In “Kubla Khan” he uses this complex rhyming structure to guide the reader through its themes—the ordered rhymes of the first half describe the ordered world of Kubla Khan, while the abrupt change in meter and rhyme immediately following, describe the nature around Kubla Khan—the world that he cannot control. This pattern and contrast between worlds continues through the poem, and the conflict is reflected in the way Coleridge uses rhythm and order in his poem. Critics agree that “Kubla Khan” is a complex work with purpose and structure, and that it is representative of Coleridge's poetic ideal of a harmonious blend of meaning and form, resulting in a “graceful and intelligent whole.”
When Coleridge first issued “Kubla Khan” in 1816, it is believed that he did so for financial reasons and as an appendage to the more substantial “Christabel.” The work had previously been excluded by Wordsworth from the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads and there is little evidence that Coleridge himself claimed it as one of his more significant works. In fact, when first published, many contemporary reviewers regarded the poem as “nonsense,” especially because of its fragmentary nature. In the years since, the poem, as well as the story of its creation, has been widely analyzed by critics, and much critical scholarship has focused on the sources for this work as well as the images included in it. Recent studies of the poem have explored the fragmentary nature of the poem versus the harmonious vision of poetic theory it proposes. For example, in an essay analyzing the fragmentary nature of “Kubla Khan,” Timothy Bahti proposes that the poet uses the symbol of the chasm to represent the act of creation, and that the struggle between the fragment and division that generates the sacred river is representative of the act of creative continuity. Other critics have focused on “Kubla Khan” as a poem that relates the account of its own creation, thus stressing its importance as a work that defines Coleridge's theories of poetic creation. It is now widely acknowledged that “Kubla Khan” is a technically complex poem that reflects many of its creator's poetic and creative philosophies and that the thematic repetition, the intricate rhymes, and carefully juxtaposed images in the work come together as a harmonious whole that is representative of Coleridge's ideas of poetic creation.
The Fall of Robespierre. An Historic Drama [act 1 by Coleridge, acts 2 and 3 by Robert Southey] (play) 1794
A Moral and Political Lecture, Delivered at Bristol (essay) 1795
Conciones ad Populum. Or Addresses to the People (lectures) 1795
Poems on Various Subjects [with Charles Lamb and Robert Southey] (poetry) 1796
Fears in Solitude, Written in 1798, During the Alarm of an Invasion. To Which are Added, France, an Ode; and Frost at Midnight (poetry) 1798
Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems [with William Wordsworth] (poetry) 1798
Remorse. A Tragedy, In Five Acts [prologue by Charles Lamb] (play) 1813
Christabel: Kubla Khan, a Vision; The Pains of Sleep (poetry) 1816
Biographia Literaria; or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions 2 vols. (prose) 1817
Sibylline Leaves: A Collection of Poems (poetry) 1817
The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge Including the Dramas of Wallenstein Remorse, and Zapolya 3 vols. (poetry and plays) 1828
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SOURCE: “‘Kubla Khan’: That Phantom-World So Fair” in Critical Essays on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Leonard Orr, G. K. Hall, 1994, pp. 71-80.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1974, Magnuson theorizes that “Kubla Khan” shares many themes and images with Coleridge's “conversation poems.”]
Coleridge's Fame as a poet rests on the achievement of the mystery poems, “Kubla Khan,” “The Ancient Mariner,” and “Christabel.” The Conversation Poems, if they are known to a general audience, are regarded uncritically as minor efforts in a mode more properly Wordsworthian, even though they precede “Tintern Abbey” and clearly stand as a paradigm that Wordsworth varies. At first sight the easy conversational middle style and the presence of other persons seem quite different from the more pronounced artfulness and solitary vision of “Kubla Khan.”
Although it appears to be the creation of an entirely different poet, “Kubla Khan” repeats several motifs of the Conversation Poems. It explores the relationship between the strength of the human imagination and the impulses with which it must work. In “This Lime-Tree Bower” the mind's creations liberate Coleridge from the state of mind in which he is incapable of responding to the immediate experience of nature and permit him to return to Poole's garden to verify his imagination. Imagination...
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SOURCE: “Coleridge's “Kubla Khan” and the Fragment of Romanticism,” in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 96, No. 5, December, 1981, pp. 1035-50.
[In the following essay, Bahti examines the language and structure of “Kubla Khan” and notes that it is both a fragment and a whole.]
I wrote reflections that, in many ways, were even stronger than their origin.
[Der] negative Sinn … entsteht, wenn einer bloß den Geist hat, ohne den Buchstaben; oder umgekehrt. …
When Coleridge's “Kubla Khan” appeared in 1816, the contemporary reviewers spoke of the poem's “nonsense.” This “nonsense” was immediately related to the ostensibly partial character of the poem: it was not wholly a meaningful poem, but only meaningless music; or else, Coleridge had dared too much, and therefore succeeded at only little, or even nothing at all, that was meaningful.2 Even when the poem was soon judged very positively, the discussion remained within the confines of the question of partiality and meaning: “Kubla Khan” was so perfect because it was purely sensual music and imagery, and did not at all need to be more, or whole.3 In both cases the poem was considered as a fragment, while the...
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SOURCE: “Coleridge's Mandala,” in Southwest Review, Vol. 66, No. 4, Autumn, 1981, pp. 404-10.
[In the following essay, King analyzes “Kubla Khan” in the context of Carl Jung's theory of the structure of the human psyche.]
The Age of Enlightenment was one of those recurring periods in the history of Western man during which Reason attempts to swallow all the affective states of personality and is, for a time, apparently successful. During this particular era, the intellectually elite firmly believed that Reason and his elder son, Science, would not only solve all of man's problems but also make possible the full realization of his potential. When the great god Reason failed, as he was fated to do, Western man, led by the Romantic rebels, sought to become whole again through the restoration to human personality of the intuitive and the affective. That he ofttimes went to the extreme in this direction is beside the point.
One of the most ardent and most articulate proponents of the doctrine of wholeness was Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In his critical and philosophical writings he discusses again and again and from many points of view the problem of unity in the midst of multiplicity. Typical is the closing paragraph of his discussion of poetry and the poet in Chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria: “Finally, Good Sense is the Body of poetic genius, Fancy its drapery, Motion its...
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SOURCE: “‘Kubla Khan’ in Context,” in Studies in English Literature, Vol. 21, No. 4, Autumn, 1981, pp. 565-83.
[In the following essay, Pearce proposes that Coleridge's notebooks, letters, and early poetry all contain details that are strongly reminiscent of the landscape in “Kubla Khan.”]
In the Paradise Lost—indeed in every one of his poems—it is Milton himself whom you see; his Satan, his Adam, his Raphael, almost his Eve—are all John Milton; and it is a sense of this intense egotism that gives me the greatest pleasure in reading Milton's works.
—S. T. Coleridge1
The Notebook accounts Coleridge kept of the walking tour of the Lake District which he took with Wordsworth in the fall of 1799 and the detailed entries on other excursions, taken for the most part alone, into the mountains around Keswick the following summer, are among the most interesting pages of natural description to have come down to us from the entire period. For sheer absorption in the act of looking at things, in richness and closeness of observed detail, they are often superior to the Alfoxden and Grasmere Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth; and certainly they make William's Guide to the Lakes seem sedate reading enough.
Coleridge of course, in 1799, was “discovering” the Lake country and that...
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SOURCE: “The Topography of Initiation in ‘Kubla Khan,’” Ball State University Forum, Vol. 22, No. 1, Winter, 1981, pp. 69-78.
[In the following essay, Strickland builds upon the thesis that “Kubla Khan” is a mythographic account of its own creation.]
If it has become a critical commonplace that the subject of “Kubla Khan” is poetry, more specific questions of intentionality in Coleridge's symbolism remain open to debate. Does the poem speak of poetry in general or of itself in particular? Among recent interpretations, those of Suther, Shelton, Purves and Patterson suggest variations of the first alternative, while Chayes and Watson have analysed the poem in its bipartite structure as a critique of itself.1 I hope to refine the second argument further by emphasizing the reflexiveness of poesis and poem in “Kubla Khan,” approaching the work not so much as a fragment-cum-commentary as a mythographic account of its own creation, a psychomachia of poet and vision in process.
Since my methodology involves the hypothetical reconstruction of the poetic act, I must reconsider briefly the old questions of manner and date of composition. The critical reactions to Coleridge's problematic preface to the poem may be divided conveniently into three camps: the Lowes, the Schneider and the Hayter. In The Road to Xanadu Lowes, followed by...
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SOURCE: “Pandemonium in Xanadu,” Romanticism Past and Present, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1981, pp. 23-40.
[In the following essay, Tapscott proposes that Coleridge's vision of Xanadu in “Kubla Khan” closely parallels Milton's Eden before the Fall, both in its description of the physical detail and in its moral ambiguity.]
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.
Kubla Khan decrees his dome in an Edenic setting. Mythic, exotic, and remarkably tangible for a visionary landscape, the first representation of Xanadu locates the mystical drama and prepares for the full description of the dome.1 In the first two lines of the poem, Coleridge specifies the place (Xanadu), the central actor (Kubla Khan), his action (the decree), and its effects (the dome). That is, the opening lines pre-scribe Xanadu and Kubla Khan's action in it. The effects of that action precede the materials in which the action takes form. Kubla Khan establishes his construct over “Alph, the sacred river” by pronouncing his “decree”—a verbal power—over the innate, pre-verbal possibilities of the scene. So he establishes a wall around “forests ancient as the hills.” This enclosure changes not the place itself, but its status. Uncircumscribed, the scene is a...
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SOURCE: “Inspiration and the Historical Sense in ‘Kubla Khan,’” Wordsworth Circle, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter, 1982, pp. 3-8.
[In the following essay, Harding discusses the impact of the Old Testament on Romantic poetry, focusing specifically on “Kubla Khan” as an example.]
Coleridge's admiration for the poetry of the Old Testament is well-known. To Coleridge, the Hebrew poets possessed in exemplary form the power of Imagination, the “modifying, and co-adunating Faculty,”1 which long before the writing of Biographia Literaria took a central place in his critical thought. Their poetry, in contrast to that of the Greeks, exhibited a profound sense of the “one Life” uniting all of nature, that sense to which Coleridge himself tried to give expression in “The Eolian Harp,” where the phrase “animated nature”2 suggests a universe constantly permeated by the anima, in Hebrew rûah, or “breath of God.”
The Romantics' adoption of the Old Testament as one of their most important literary models owed much to Robert Lowth, whose De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum attempted to formulate a poetics based on Biblical, rather than on classical and neoclassical, poetic practice. Lowth defended such characteristic features of Hebrew poetry as parallelism, emotional intensity, rhythmic variation, simplicity of utterance, and the...
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SOURCE: “‘Most Capital Enemies of the Muses’: War, Art, and ‘Kubla Khan,’” Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter, 1984, pp. 396-408.
[In the following essay, Bright surveys three ideas as the thematic sources of “Kubla Khan”—that art is spontaneous and unexpected, that art can only flourish in peacetime, and that great rulers create the peace that is essential for the creation of great art.]
Like some Victorian explorer intent upon discovering the source of the Nile, John Livingston Lowes pursued the manifold streams of Coleridge's reading to reveal the literary origins of “Kubla Khan,” and in The Road to Xanadu Lowes disclosed where his searches had led him. So exhaustively thorough was this scholarly adventurer that he left few sources to investigate, and, since the publication of his book in 1927, those few have apparently all been traced. Consequently, when Walter Jackson Bate in 1968 wrote about the various attempts to find the sources of “Kubla Khan,” Lowes's foremost of them, he concluded that “the pickings among possible verbal parallels tend now to be rather slight.”1 If, however, little remains in the way of verbal parallels, something is yet to be done with the ideas upon which the poem is based, for there are certain unexplored ideas, three to be precise, that inform important parts of “Kubla Khan” and that affect the...
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SOURCE: “The Languages of Kubla Khan” in Coleridge's Imagination: Essays in Memory of Pete Laver, edited by Richard Gravil, Lucy Newlyn, and Nicholas Roe, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 220-62.
[In the following essay, Beer interprets “Kubla Khan” as a ferment of competing languages that dramatize the conflicts the author felt.]
A close reading of Kubla Khan makes one aware of an irresolution in the imagery which stands in marked contrast to the homogeneity of the verse. Throughout the poem there runs a strong incantatory strain, within which we become aware of an ingenious poetic language. The feminine rhymes in the second, third and fourth stanzas bring in a lightness and variation which is regularly superseded by a powerful and strong iambic movement. The effect of inevitability becomes stronger each time, until the final lines of the last stanza, which have the quality of a charm.
There is, however, a contrast of effect between the rhythmic movement of the verse, impressive in the subtlety of its patterning, and the visual imagery of the poem, which is not only hard to fix into a landscape pattern but is constantly contracting and expanding in the mind, moving between pictures of an objectively visible scene and suggestions of vast unseizable subterranean spaces and forces.
As a result, the reception of the poem will vary according to...
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SOURCE: “The Faults of Vision: Identity and Poetry (A Dialogue of Voices, with an essay on Kubla Khan)” in Identity of the Literary Text, edited by Mario J. Valdes and Owen Miller, University of Toronto Press, 1985, pp. 119-45.
[In the following excerpt, Hamlin notes that “Kubla Khan” remains a challenge for critics because of its visionary and inspired text, and that while it is a poem that displays the Romantic power of imagination it is also a text that stands on its own as a poetic statement.]
‘MINGLED MEASURE’ IN KUBLA KHAN1
Sameron adion asō: but the to-morrow is yet to come.
Kubla Khan occupies a special place among English Romantic poems. Few texts have received so much critical attention, and few of the major Romantic lyrics make so persuasive a claim for what might be called visionary or inspired discourse. Romantic poetics privileges the powers of the imagination. This holds true for Coleridge above all. Kubla Khan, however problematic its status as text, seems to demonstrate with consummate eloquence and authority that singular poetic quality. Yet precisely because of this claim as poetry and because so much is at stake for a theory of poetry to which this text bears witness, Kubla Khan remains a challenge for criticism. No more crucial instance comes to mind for the question of identity in...
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SOURCE: “Coleridge's ‘Kubla Khan’: A Metaphor for the Creative Process,” South Atlantic Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, November, 1986, pp. 17-29.
[In the following essay, Milne explores the idea that “Kubla Khan” is a poem about the creative process, focusing on the landscape, the figure of Kubla Khan, and the vision of Xanadu presented in the work.]
Although debate continues over whether or not the headnote Coleridge published with “Kubla Khan” in 1816 should be regarded as a factual account of the poem's origin, recent studies have suggested that regardless of its basis in fact the headnote serves most importantly as what Warren Stevenson calls an “imaginative adjunct to the poem” (606). In that context, the headnote can be seen as “a prose imitation of the poem it introduces,” functioning “in part as argument and gloss” (Chayes 4). Such an understanding of the headnote reinforces the view that “Kubla Khan” is a poem about the creative process. To say that certainly is not new, but the reading that follows, while benefiting from those preceding it, differs from them in its interpretation of specific elements in the poem, particularly the function of Kubla Khan.
According to the account given in the headnote, Coleridge sensed that he composed a poem in simultaneous response to a vision seen during “a profound sleep, at least of the...
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SOURCE: “‘Kubla Khan’ in the Context of Coleridge's Writings Around 1802,” English Studies, Vol. 68, No. 3, June, 1987, pp. 228-35.
[In the following essay, Rookmaaker proposes that the key to understanding “Kubla Khan” may lie as much in Coleridge's other writing at the time he composed the poem as it does in its sources.]
Although most critics regard ‘Kubla Khan’ as one of the seminal poems of romanticism, there is sharp critical disagreement about its significance and meaning. While the general outlines of the landscape described in the poem are relatively clear, it offers only little indication concerning the significance of its imagery. The pleasure-dome, for instance, can be interpreted as a symbol of ‘the heaven of art’ (J. V. Baker), or as embodying finite man's ‘desire for pleasure and safety’ (R. H. Fogle); again, it could signify ‘the pleasure of a sexual union’ (G. Wilson Knight), or the individual's ‘limited field of consciousness’ (P. Magnuson). 1 Though exaggerated, there is some truth in N. Fruman's remark that ‘Every interpretation is in an important sense a catalog of the reader's interests’.2
In their attempts to solve the riddle of ‘Kubla Khan’, critics have sought elucidation in its sources, ranging presumably from Ridley's ‘Tale of the Genii’ to Pausanias's Description of Greece, from Southey's...
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SOURCE: “The False Poets in ‘Kubla Khan,’” English Language Notes, Vol. 26, No. 2, December, 1988, pp. 48-55.
[In the following essay, Hewitt suggests that “Kubla Khan” was Coleridge's attempt at evaluating established ideas of poetic creation and ultimately finding them wanting.]
Readers choosing to understand “Kubla Khan” as a comment on poetry may deem most concomitant interpretive issues settled some time ago by George Watson:
“Kubla Khan,” then, is not just about poetry: it is about two kinds of poem. We have one of them in the first thirty-six lines of the poem; and though we do not have the other, we are told what it would do to the reader and what it would do to the poet. The reader would be able to visualize a palace and park he had never seen; and the poet would behave after the classic manner of poets, like a madman. This second poem—the poem that does not exist—is so evidently the real thing that it is clear that the poem we have, in 11. 1-36, is not the real thing—not quite a poem at all, in Coleridge's terms.1
Watson's argument has a certain finality that implies that further speculation would be useful only if it shifts its focus, and such a shift is indeed evidenced in more recent criticism of “Kubla Khan,” which concentrates on its political dimension, celebrates the poetics of...
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SOURCE: “The Imaginative Vision of Kubla Khan On Coleridge's Introductory Note” in Coleridge, Keats, and the Imagination: Romanticism and Adam's Dream, edited by J. Robert Barth and John L. Mahoney, University of Missouri Press, 1990, pp. 97-108.
[In the following essay, Perkins discusses the importance of the introductory note to “Kubla Khan,” noting that it guides the reader's interpretation of the work from start to finish.]
Coleridge's introductory note to Kubla Khan weaves together two myths with potent imaginative appeal. The myth of the lost poem tells how an inspired work was mysteriously given to the poet and then dispelled irrecoverably. The nonexistent lines haunt the imagination more than any actual poem could. John Livingston Lowes used to tell his classes, W. Jackson Bate remembers, “If there is any man in the history of literature who should be hanged, drawn, and quartered, it is the man on business from Porlock.” He has become, as Elizabeth Schneider remarks, a byword for Philistine intrusion upon genius. Coleridge's self-portrait in the introductory note is another source of fascination, one that anticipates, as Timothy Bahti observes, the image of the poet later propagated by the symbolistes and L'art pour l'art.1 The note describes the poet as a solitary, a dreamer, and a reader of curious lore, such as Purchas His Pilgrimage....
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SOURCE: “‘Kubla Khan’ and Eighteenth Century Aesthetic Theories,” Wordsworth Circle, Vol. 22, No. 1, Winter, 1991, pp. 15-24.
[In the following essay, Wheeler identifies “Kubla Khan” as a poem that reflected the concerns and interests of its age. The critic contends that by the time Coleridge wrote his poem, many of the ideas, imagery, symbols, and references to Orientalism had, in fact, already been assimilated into the English literary tradition.]
Few poems of classic status in the English literary corpus seem more exotic to the modern reader than “Kubla Khan.” Coleridge's tantalising account of its origins combines with the Oriental imagery to tend to disassociate the poem from its literary tradition. The perhaps surprising conclusion persists however that if ever a poem reflected the concerns and interests of its age, “Kubla Khan” is that poem. Yet the works on sources has acted both to obscure and to reveal the exemplary nature of the poem. For it has located many coincidences of idea, imagery and phrase in travelogues, histories, religious myths, and Oriental literature generally, without emphasising sufficiently (to overcome the strangeness to a modern reader) the extent to which much of this material had already been assimilated into the English literary tradition in the eighteenth century, and already constituted exciting and well-known speculations of the day.
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SOURCE: “Kubla Can: Wordplay in Coleridge's Poetry,” Wordsworth Circle, Vol. 26, No. 1, Winter, 1995, pp. 8-12.
[In the following essay, Kennard focuses on Coleridge's use of puns in “Kubla Khan.”]
Summarizing Coleridge's attitude towards the pun, Sylvan Barnet notes three separate strains: “As a man in social situations he enjoyed puns and punning; as a philosopher he detested distortions of language; as a student of Shakespeare he found explanations for some puns and ignored others” (“Coleridge on Puns,” JEGP [Journal of English and Germanic Philology] 56  602-609). Published more than thirty years ago, Barnet's article and subsequent scholarship only tells part of the story. As the work of James McKusick in Coleridge's Philosophy of Language (1986), and of Timothy Fulford's Coleridge's Figurative Language (1991) has shown, Coleridge's attention to the pun is in fact central to his lifelong interest in language, an interest that cannot be totally separated from his wider religious and philosophical concerns. As I will show in this paper, the pun is the site of a particular tension in Coleridge's work. Ultimately, this tension sets pleasure and truth against each other, dividing what ought to be united. To flesh out the causes and characteristics of this opposition I turn first to an examination of the way in which wordplay actually functions in his...
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SOURCE: “Two Notes on ‘Kubla Khan,’” in Charles Lamb Bulletin, No. 102, April, 1998, pp. 64-5.
[In the following essay, Chandler discusses various sources that may have inspired Coleridge to write a particular line in “Kubla Khan.”]
‘I WOULD BUILD THAT DOME IN AIR’
In an important article of 1985, ‘“Kubla Khan” and Michelangelo's Glorious Boast’,1 Jack Stillinger made a significant contribution to our understanding of Coleridge's most enigmatic poem by demonstrating that the key line, ‘I would build that dome in air’, almost certainly derives from a ‘boast’, at one time attributed to Michelangelo, that the cupola of St Peter's would be equivalent to the Pantheon suspended in the air. Unfortunately most of Stillinger's illustrations of the currency of the ‘boast’ postdate the composition of ‘Kubla Khan’, but, with the assistance of Philipp Fehl, he found three examples that predate it (in works of 1692, 1781 and 1789). To his list can be added a passage in the ‘considerably augmented’ third edition of Sir William Chambers' Treatise on the Decorative Part of Civil Architecture (1791):
Michael Angelo, who skilled as he was in mathematical knowledge, could have no very high opinion of the ancient construction; boasted that he would suspend the largest temple of antiquity (meaning the...
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SOURCE: “Coleridge's Intellectual Intuition, the Vision of God, and the Walled Garden of ‘Kubla Khan,’” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 59, No. 1, January, 1998, pp. 115-34.
[In the following essay, Hedley discusses “Kubla Khan” as a poem written within the visionary mystical tradition that draws upon the central Christian image of the walled garden.]
In his seminal work of 1917 Das Heilige Rudolph Otto quotes a number of passages as instances of the “Numinose.” Alongside those quotations from more conventional mystics, Plotinus, and Augustine, Otto refers to Coleridge's “savage place” in “Kubla Khan,”1 It is also pertinent that, when trying to define Romanticism, C. S. Lewis appeals to the longing for the “unnameable something” fired by “morning cobwebs in late summer” or the “opening lines of ‘Kubla Khan’.”2 Perhaps it is a mere coincidence that two of the most penetrating and influential scholars of religion in the twentieth century should appeal to Coleridge and his poem “Kubla Khan.” I wish to suggest reasons why the link between the imagery of “Kubla Khan” and a mystical experience of transcendence is not merely fortuitous. Indeed the connection between Coleridge's mature writing and the imagery of the poem shows that we have good reason for seeing him as consciously writing, both as a poet and as a philosopher,...
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Bate, Jonathan. “‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘At a Solemn Music.’” English Language Notes 24, No. 1 (1986): 71-73.
Explains some Miltonic parallels in “Kubla Khan.”
Benzon, William. “Articulate Vision: A Structuralist Reading of ‘Kubla Khan’.” Language and Style 18, No. 1 (Winter 1985): 3-29.
A structuralist interpretation of “Kubla Khan.”
Colombo, Claire Miller. “Reading Scripture, Writing Self: Coleridge's Animation of the ‘Dead Letter.’” Studies in Romanticism 35, No. 1 (Spring 1996): 27-53.
Readings of “The Eolian Harp” and “Kubla Khan,” both proposing that Coleridge considered the poetic form a derivative of the sculptural form.
De Paolo, Charles. “Coleridge and the Cities of the Khan.” Wordsworth Circle 14, No. 2 (Spring 1983): 83-87.
Traces Coleridge's description of Xanadu in “Kubla Khan” to Purchas's description of the city of Xamdu.
Drew, John. “‘Kubla Khan’ and Orientalism.” Coleridge's Visionary Languages, edited by Tim Fulford and Morton D. Paley, pp. 41-48. Cambridge: Brewer, 1993.
A reading of “Kubla Khan” as an Orientalist poem.
Hamilton, Paul. “Plagiarism with a Difference: Subjectivity in ‘Kubla...
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