Could I have an detailed explanation of "Kubla Khan" ?

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writergal06 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Kubla Khan" is an unfinished narrative poem by Samuel Coleridge. Its said that the poem came to him in a vision, but that he was unable to finish it before the vision vanished. Its based on the founder of the Yuan Dynasty in China, Kublai Khan. In the poem, Kubla Khan has visions of coming war, hears voices telling him "Beware, beware," and sees caves of ice. This start to the narrative gives Kubla Khan an atmosphere of suspense and mystery, which is never fully developed. Some critics have speculated that Coleridge was using Kubla Khan's narrative as a symbolic representation of the art of poetic creation, but without the ending it is hard to tell where Coleridge was going to take his audience through the poem.

misbah1 | Student

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subrataray | Student



The setting of Kubla Khan palace in Xanadu reminds us of the remoteness of time and place. We go back to the medieval age when Kubla Khan, the grandsons of wildly mysterious Genghis Khan reigned in a dark world.

The name Kubla Khan, itself is baneful and mystery-striking. The surrounding of the place, on witnessed by the poet, gives us the air of a farey land where Alph, the scared river goes down to a ‘sunless see’. Such a scene is beyond our “local habitation and name”. Here our journey starts from mystery.


Once again, amidst Alph’s sinking in noise to lifeless ocean, the poet witnesses Kubla Khan‘s hearing of the voices of his fore-fathers who as if, urge Kubla Khan to wage war. At this we feel the presence of Genghis Khan’s ghostly spirit and our imagination catches some fragments of the dreadful horrors committed by the Mongolian Emperrors.Coleridge with his novelty of art, makes Xanadu, a haunting place of Kubla Khan’s ancestral ghosts.

Immediately after the description of the river, dancing rock, waning moon, woman wailing for her demon lover, and lifeless sea, we come across “a miracle of device”. What we see with poet’s eye, is “a sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice”. Here we are placed between life deth.Kubla Khan’s place Xanadu is full of life but at the same time it is cold like deth.Simultaneous suggestion from the imaginary of death and life, transport us to a never land.

More surprise waits for us. The poet makes his dream a reality, he gets enchanted with the vision of damosel who appears from African country of ancient time and who to the poet in his Muse,-the emblem of poetic inspiration.

Coleridge’s art creates completely a new world where our sense perception finds no entrance. He creates a situation that lies between “sunny pleasure dome” and “caves of ice’ and there in, in one side, there haunts a demon lover and on other, “Abyssinian maid”. Here too, creation of suspense evoking imagination, leads us to a province of dark cum light mystery. The poet simply gives us his experience and with him we remaining “perplexed and still”, watch his mysterious land of dream.

Subtle suggestion is one of the characteristics of supernatural poetry .But Coleridge’s suggestion becomes the presentation of his direct experience. We are led to hang in suspension and ask our self about the limitation of our experience. The concluding part of “Kubla Khan” vivifies this fact.


Coleridge’s art reveals the hidden mystery of life. The three figures in this poem,-‘a woman wailing for demon lover’, ‘the Abyssinian mind’, and ‘the magician with holy dread’ suggests the three parts of life. They are,-life of instinct, life of inspiration and beauty and life of higher spiritual experience. Again, these figures indicate that life itself is a dream. In this world, we are placed in Kubla Khan’s castle, - a place where we live with death and life. The only solace if any, that we have, is creative exhibition of our higher reality – which ordinarily we can not comprehend, because, we have not the “ear to hear, eye to see and heart to feel ”.

Subrata Ray .Mousumipara .Uluberia .West Bengal .India .