what is the poem "kubla khan" about?

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This dream vision is about the imaginative and creative process of the poetic genius. The poet-narrator dreams he is the Chinese kingdom of the emperor Kubla Khan, and this dream unleashes a meditation on the power of the poetic sensibility or soul.

The first stanza shows the ordinary beauties of this mythic "Oriental" landscape. This setting represents the ordinary person's imagination. We see walls, towers, and bright gardens, and we smell the "incense-bearing tree." This is a lovely but placid scene.

In the second stanza, we are introduced to the more powerful current of the artistic imagination embodied in the creative genius. This is depicted as a "savage," a "holy," and an "enchanted" place marked by much greater intensity and turmoil than the gentle scene of the first stanza. Here a woman wails for her "demon-lover." A powerful waterfall explodes and cascades down a chasm. This deeply felt creative process, which can produce extraordinary art, is likened to a sexual orgasm, and the poem reaches a climax:

As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail.
In the third stanza, the narrator continues to dwell on the creative process, wishing he could "revive" a song he once heard an Abyssinian maid play in a vision he once had. If he could pull up that imagined song from the depths of his soul, he could shake the world with his poetic power.
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge based the poem “Kubla Khan” on an opium induced dream. This is evident from the otherworldly setting of the poem. The speaker of the poem remains unnamed but describes the mystical land of Xanadu. The poem opens with a marvelous description of the “pleasure-dome” decreed by an ancient Mongol Emperor named Kubla Khan. The poem details the magnificent beauty and scenery in Xanadu including a river (Alph) that winds through caverns and empties into the sea. The enchanted quality of the poem is intensified by the addition of a woman haunting the woods and wailing for her demon lover. The poet continues to detail the intense beauty of the cavern and tells of Kubla hearing the ancestral voices prophesying war. Here the poem begins to seem a bit fragmented with the description of a woman with a dulcimer that he held in a vision. Coleridge ends with the proclamation that he would build his own pleasure palace in the air with her song.

 

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