Supernatural Elements In Kubla Khan

Discuss supernatural elements in Coleridge's Kubla Khan.

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Supernatural elements are peppered throughout Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan”, and they contribute to the transcendent, ethereal quality of this famous work.

First off, in the introduction to the poem (the 8-word quote before the commencement of the body of the poem) it relates that this is a presentation of a vision in a dream. Therefore, this is not a matter-of-fact, dry, reportorial account of real events. It is the relating of the dreams/imaginings of the author. Many dreams have an “other-worldly” essence to them; this fits the mood of Kubla Khan.

In addition, the river Alph is declared sacred. Therefore, to be sacred means associating this river with something that is consecrated or hallowed. This fits with the concept of worship in many belief systems. This is a second supernatural element of this poem.

Furthermore, the “romantic chasm” is declared “holy and enchanted”. Again, in this vision/dream, something that is part of the physical is metamorphosed (in the dreamer’s eyes) into being something supernatural – something set apart and taking on a mystical quality. Moreover, the suggestion in the poem is that this enchanted but savage place is akin to a woman weeping for “her demon-lover”. The trend continues in this poem of relating the vision of the dream in unearthly terms. The realm of darkness is alluded to here.

Next, we have somewhat subtle Biblical references in Kubla Khan. One is hail, which evokes images of hail upon Egypt when Moses sought to lead the people of Israel out of captivity (Exodus 9:23).

Another reference in the poem is “…chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail”, which evokes Mathew 3:12, “He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire." (New Living Translation).

Another supernatural element in Kubla Khan is the line, “Ancestral voices prophesying war!” This relates to ancient tomes predicting major world events. This includes the Bible as well as other works such as what some see as World War predictions in the works of Nostradamus.

Finally, the last word of this poem is Paradise, which evokes countless images of a future, utopian life. This last word will connect with many according to their respective belief systems. It can relate to a Paradise of man’s making on this physical earth in the minds of some. However, it is a supernatural term if one believes in an afterlife because it deals with a time and environment not of this physical realm.

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Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kubla Khan, a poem published in 1816 by leading Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge originated in an opium-induced dream nearly thirty years before in 1797. The poem of 54 lines fitly bears all the marks of a feverish dream: vibrant, episodic, and - near the end in the third part - inappurtenant since the lines concerning the Abyssinian maid are unrelated to the main topic. The first part of the poem is the transcript of the dream that Coleridge tried to remember after waking. The second part is the reification in supernatural terms of the poet's mental experience of dream. It is as if Coleridge wanted to validate an intensely otherworldly, but personal experience by marrying it to supernatural images.    

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Kubla Khan

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