Can "Kubla Khan" be described as an incoherent poem? Why?

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Coleridge’s poem is incomplete, not incoherent. That is, the form of the poem we have is not the complete text Coleridge famously dreamed under the influence of opium in 1797. According to Coleridge, he dreamed the whole text of the poem, but could only write the first part before he was interrupted by a visitor, after which he was unable to continue. Coleridge himself did not think much of the poem, viewing it as a “psychological curiosity” more than anything else. Nevertheless, as other answers to this question have pointed out, there is a richness of imagery and a consistency of rhyme and meter that binds the whole together.

The action of the poem, beginning with the description of the “stately pleasure dome” and continuing through the description of the sacred river to the “ancestral voices prophesying war,” suggest that the missing part of Coleridge’s poem might have been a reflection on the contrast between the pleasure dome and the inevitability of war. The next section of the poem, in which the poet sees the vision of “a damsel with a dulcimer” plainly is a reflection on the lost lines of the poem:

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!

The dome is an image of paradise. The power of the image is such that it could have transformed the poet:

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.

The “milk of paradise” perhaps can be understood as poetic insight; at any rate, the final lines clearly lament the lost vision. Far from being incoherent, the poem, for all its incompleteness, suggests the scope and ambition of Coleridge’s poetry.

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Rebecca Hope eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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No, "Kubla Khan" is not an incoherent poem; it is a fragment. According to Samuel Taylor Coleridge , he experienced the poem in a vision while he was in an opium-induced sleep. The poem composed itself in his mind, complete with visuals, and was from 200 to 300 lines long, but when he woke up, he only had time to write down the first 36 lines before he was interrupted. Later, he couldn't recall...

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