What is the main idea of "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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"Kubla Khan" depicts a mythical palace, or "pleasure dome" constructed by Kubla Khan, a real historical figure, in an exotic location known as Xanadu. The poem's tone is dream-like, and indeed Coleridge claimed to have composed the poem based on a dream he had. The palace's surroundings are described as romantic and almost heavenly, including "gardens bright with sinuous rills" and "many an incense-bearing tree." Most of the poem is devoted to what amounts to an exploration of this magical tableau, with the narrator wishing that he could himself create such a place of beauty. In terms of meaning, critics have disagreed, with the mainstream interpretation being that "Kubla Khan" is intended to be a sort of allegory for the creation of art for art's sake. This is perhaps what Coleridge means when he wishes he could "revive" within himself the "symphony and song" of an "Abyssinian maid" he once heard playing the dulcimer. If he could, he says he too would "build that dome in air," something of such sublime beauty that observers would believe he had "drunk the milk of Paradise."