Discuss the role of inspiration in “Kubla Khan.”

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If there's a poem that can be said to be inspired, it's Coleridge's "Kubla Khan." He claimed that it was composed one night after an opium-induced dream. He also claimed, somewhat less fancifully, that it was inspired by a sentence written by the Renaissance historian Samuel Purchas:

Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.

However Coleridge received his inspiration, there's little doubt that his finished work is a testament to the powers of the imagination. The title character himself, far from being the cruel despot that history tells us he was, is actually something of a creative artist himself. He was inspired, like Coleridge, to create lasting monuments to his artistic greatness. With a God-like command, Khan summons up the beauty of the great pleasure-dome and the ordered loveliness of its luscious gardens.

Like the very greatest works of art, Xanadu's pleasure-dome and gardens have a self-contained quality about them. They are situated in a specific time and place and yet they also transcend cultural and historical epochs to endure throughout eternity. This is because they partake of beauty in the abstract. The gardens do not evoke this or that beautiful thing. They stand for beauty as a Platonic Form, an unchanging ideal which partakes of the ultimate truth.

Unlike Plato, however, by whom he was much influenced, Coleridge regards visions of the truth as emanating from the imagination, not from the reasoning faculty. For Coleridge, the arch-Romantic, it is the imagination that inspires the artist to create. Imagination gives him a privileged insight into the truth. In "Kubla Khan," Coleridge employs his theory of creativity in the bold fusion of the image of the stately pleasure dome with the sound of the mighty fountain. Such a synthesis occurs within the world of the imagination; it is brought to life by an initial spark of inspiration.

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