Comment on "Kubla Khan" as a dream poem.

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge subtitled "Kubla Khan" as "A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment." In his prefatory note, he describes the circumstances under which he composed it. He had been reading about Kubla Khan in Purchas His Pilgrimage when he fell asleep in his chair. During his three-hour nap, "images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any consciousness of effort."

Although this happened nearly a century before the invention of movies, this description sounds surprisingly like a film. However, Coleridge's "movie" was subtitled with elegant poetry, about three hundred lines in all. When Coleridge woke up, he remembered the whole thing and began furiously recording what he'd dreamt. Unfortunately, he was "called out by a person on business from Porlock," and by the time he could extract himself from the caller, the words had vanished.

Considering the beauty and technical brilliance of the fragment Coleridge recorded, his story seems far-fetched. Could someone dream a poem of that caliber? Many commentators have made much of the fact that Coleridge's dream was opium-induced. He had taken "two grains of opium" for an intestinal complaint before his nap. Since some poets and musicians believed that laudanum aided their creativity, perhaps the drug can be credited with the dream and the poem.

However, one need not resort to the explanation of opium as the sole cause of this poetic dream. In 1797, when Coleridge wrote "Kubla Khan," he had begun spending a significant amount of time with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. The three poets collaborated for hours each day on their poetry, advising each other and contributing to each other's verses. For both William Wordsworth and Coleridge, it was an especially productive time in their writing careers.

When a person becomes fluent in a foreign language, they begin to dream in that language. In the same way, Coleridge's extended exposure to the rhythm, rhyme, and meter of poetry no doubt influenced his dreams. The poem is written in a strong iambic rhythm with an irregular rhyme scheme. Since Coleridge was spending such a large portion of his waking hours working in iambic rhythm and rhyme, his brain could "write poetry in his sleep," which is what it apparently did with "Kubla Khan."

"Kubla Khan" is considered one of Coleridge's most beautiful and impressive lyrics. Opium alone could not have produced such a masterpiece; Coleridge's talent for language and his immersion in his craft spilled over into his dream to produce this beloved piece.

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The famous poem "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is subtitled "A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment." In fact, the author means this literally. According to his own account in a preface to the poem in the collection Christabel; Kubla Khan, A Vision; The Pains of Sleep, Coleridge received about 200 lines of the poem when he was dreaming while resting at a farm. He was feeling sick and took an anodyne, which is a painkiller; most accounts claim that this was opium-based. He had just been reading Purchas His Pilgrimage, an account of travels in faraway lands, which describes the palace of Kubla Khan.

Coleridge slept for about three hours, during which he claims to have composed 200 to 300 lines. When he woke up, the lines were fresh in his mind, and he grabbed paper and pen and began to write them down. Unfortunately, he was interrupted by a man who had to see him on a matter of business. When he returned to his room, he could not remember more than a few small fragments of the unfinished poem.

The poem itself has a wonderful dreamlike quality, sometimes joyous and sometimes frightening. The visions that Coleridge describes are larger than life, as in a dream. At the end, he declares that if he could properly remember and describe the music that he heard and the visions that he saw, people would perceive him as a supernatural magician and would weave spells around him to protect themselves.

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Kubla Khan, one of Coleridge's most famous poems, came to him in a dream. Adding an extra layer to the dreamy history of the poem, Coleridge had taken opium before he fell asleep. When he awoke, the poem appeared in his mind in its entirety. He was in the midst of writing it down when a visitor interrupted him, so the poem became what Coleridge called "a fragment."

The poem emerged from a literal dream, but it's subject matter is also dreamlike: before he fell asleep, Coleridge had been reading accounts of Xanadu, the summer palace of the Emperor Kubla Khan. Xanadu symbolizes a magical paradise, and provides an ethereal contrast to the mundane, everyday waking world. The palace is a dreamlike fantasy, reflected in water:

The shadow of the dome of pleasure/Floated midway on the waves;Where was heard the mingled measure/From the fountain and the caves.It was a miracle of rare device/ A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice! (lines 31–36)

Coleridge, as a Romantic poem, was fascinated with the world of the fantastic, the dream, the surreal and the unconscious. China and "the Orient" represented that dream world to the Western mind, a place of magical potions, strange gods and mysterious powers. This fanciful universe provided a contrast to prosaic world of "reason" and science that had come to prominence in the 18th century. Through the lyrical beauty of his dreamlike descriptions, Coleridge used the power of the imagination to paint a compelling portrait of a world beyond the grasp of facts and figures.

 

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