Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The most striking of the many poetic devices in “Kubla Khan” are its sounds and images. One of the most musical of poems, it is full of assonance and alliteration, as can be seen in the opening five lines:
In Xanadu did Kubla KhanA stately pleasure-dome decree:Where Alph, the sacred river, ranThrough caverns measureless to man Down to a sunless sea.
This repetition of a, e, and u sounds continues throughout the poem with the a sounds dominating, creating a vivid yet mournful song appropriate for one intended to inspire its listeners to cry “Beware! Beware!” in their awe of the poet. The halting assonance in the line “As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing” creates the effect of breathing.
The alliteration is especially prevalent in the opening lines, as each line closes with it: “Kubla Khan,” “pleasure-dome decree,” “river, ran,” “measureless to man,” and “sunless sea.” The effect is almost to hypnotize the reader or listener into being receptive to the marvelous visions about to appear. Other notable uses of alliteration include the juxtaposition of “waning” and “woman wailing” to create a wailing sound. “Five miles meandering with a mazy motion” sounds like the...
(The entire section is 355 words.)
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Kubla Khan (Magill Book Reviews)
Coleridge has described how as a young man in poor health he took a prescribed drug. While reading a popular travel book, he fell into a deep slumber and “dreamed” the poem in which a Mongol emperor orders a “stately pleasure dome” near a sacred river that has cut a deep chasm into the earth on its way to the sea.
Two thirds of the poem’s 54 lines describe this strange setting. Then follows a vision of “an Abyssinian maid” whose song would serve the speaker--if only he could revive it--to reconstruct the exotic scene.
One theme of the poem is the nature of poetic inspiration. Coleridge makes use of the ancient tradition that poets are literally not themselves when composing but are possessed by a daemon or guiding spirit. The poet cannot control the daemon, only try to take advantage of it when it comes. This poem paradoxically voices the frustration of a poet whose daemon has departed.
“KUBLA KHAN” has attracted much criticism, including a classic study by John Livingston Lowes, THE ROAD TO XANADU. Some critics have accepted Coleridge’s explanation of an unconscious or semiconscious origin, while others have pointed to the poet’s extraordinary command of meter and other sound patterns and even have discerned a logical structure that only a conscious and disciplined artist could achieve. To such critics, Coleridge is providing a carefully crafted picture of a wild creator with “flashing eyes” and...
(The entire section is 286 words.)