Analyze the theme of poetic creativity in Coleridge's "Kubla Khan."

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "mighty fountain" the narrator of "Kubla Khan" imagines most fully describes the creative process in this poem:

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.
I will try to use euphemism, or polite wording, but the above passage is a metaphor for both sexual and creative potency, which become one in the image of the bursting water. The narrator describes a force that like a fountain under pressure, suddenly ("momently," which means suddenly, is used twice) bursting out and flinging up "the sacred river." That force is both the "river" that creates human life, and the river of creativity that explodes and forms into a poem such as the one the poet is writing.
The sensuous and imaginative poem that pours forth from the narrator creates a dreamscape of great beauty. To the extent that this poem or any work of art is a mirror of what is imagined (not of reality but of the imagination), it is like the reflection of the shadow of the pleasure dome in the waves of the sea that the narrator describes, which is a symbol of the beautiful and ephemeral captured by the fragile magic of the artist. This creative process is what Coleridge calls the "secondary imagination" of the creative artist, which puts images from the world together in new and different ways.
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a poem that is famous for being actually about the creative process of writing itself, as modelled in the action of Kubla Khan in creating his famous "pleasure dome." Note the way in which he "decrees" a pleasure dome, followed by a description of its appearance and the process of it being made. Just as Kubla Khan creates this pleasure dome, so a parallel is drawn with the speaker, who, in the final stanza of the poem, wishes to re-create the pleasure dome through his words: clearly referring to an act of poetic creation:

That with music loud and long,

I would build that dome in air,

That sunny dome! those caves of ice!

Coleridge further alludes to the special place that poets occupy in the imagination, as figures both to be revered and feared, as demonstrated by the way those looking at the speaker shout "Beware!" because of the way he has fed on "honeydew" and "drunk the milk of paradise." The creation of the pleasure dome seems therefore to act as a powerful symbol of creativity as a whole. Just as Kubla Khan created his pleasure dome, so Coleridge has created this poem, and longs to be able to exercise the same gift of creativity. The poem itself has been created out of thin air to give us a new way to look at creativity and the imagination.