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In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," what does the underworld symbolize?

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There is no direct reference to the underworld in "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. However, the poem does reference "caverns measureless to man" (4), and this image is central to the poem. If we are to consider these caverns as an underworld, then we might say that they symbolize unconscious human brain power or the creative spirit that spurs on the imagination or artistic process. 

It's important to understand that this poem is an enigma, and no scholar has been able to pin down an exact meaning for it. There are lots of ideas, of course, but no completely certain consensus (and that's one of the reasons this poem remains so compelling). However, many readers have noted that the poem seems to be exploring the capabilities of the imagination or of the artistic, creative process. As such, it's possible to say that the caverns in the poem (an underworld, perhaps) symbolize the subconscious that makes this imaginative, artistic process possible. It is impossible to say where this "underworld" goes (remember, the caverns are measureless to man), and it's also difficult to say what happens when one goes too far. However, as the poem includes some ominously violent imagery ("Ancestral voices prophesying war!" (30), for instance) it might be possible to surmise that venturing too far into one's imaginative subconscious has some frightening consequences. 

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There is of course lots of debate about this topic. Symbolism is never a precise science, and so we can never be sure what exactly the underworld could be said to "represent." However, a lot of critics consider that this poem is about the act of artistic creation and the imagination. Thinking about this, the "caverns measureless to man" which I assume you are referring to could be said to symbolise the sheer power of creation and the imagination, which can never be measured or quantified.

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See my answer to this question at the link below:

http://www.enotes.com/kubla-khan/q-and-a/what-does-underworld-symbolize-19907

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What does the underworld symbolize in "Kubla Khan"? Where does one go when one ventures into the dark world beneath? Why is it sometimes better not to go too far?

The full title of the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is "Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment," named for the nature of its creation. As the story goes, Coleridge was taking an opium-infused medicine and reading a book about the emperor Kublai Khan when he fell asleep. Upon awakening, he attempted to write down as much of the dream as he could remember.

The answer to your first question can help inform how you choose to answer the others. The "underworld" is a common trope in religious, mythological, and cultural thought, and as a concept is almost ubiquitous in every culture. Generally speaking, it's the land of the dead—often located within the earth itself. As such, the underworld can be associated with darkness, fire, and other aspects of the subterranean. It's also common for myths to involve a living hero making a journey into the underworld and returning. The underworld can be seen as a mirror to the land of the living: a balanced, opposite realm when compared to the world above. In some cases, the underworld is actually the source of life.

How do these common characteristics of the underworld find their way into "Kubla Khan"? The second stanza introduces it quite literally, as the reader is taken on a journey into a "deep romantic chasm" near Kubla Khan's palace, described as savage, holy, and enchanted. A great fountain bursts from the chasm, forming the river Alph and ending in a "lifeless ocean." In the chaos, the voices of the dead can be heard "prophesying war." You might also make the connection between the dreamlike, drug-induced state in which the poem was written and the nature of the underworld.

There's a tension between these darker, more violent aspects of the poem and the whimsical, paradisaical descriptions of Xanadu and Kubla Khan's palace. You could interpret this as representative of the dual nature of heaven and hell and the microcosm of light and dark within humanity.

I would suggest exploring these themes further, then relating them to the other questions you've listed. Knowing what you've do about the underworld as a general concept and as explored in the context of the poem, what might Coleridge be saying about the dangers and experiences of venturing too far?

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What does the underworld symbolize in "Kubla Khan"? Where does one go when one ventures into the dark world beneath? Why is it sometimes better not to go too far?

You must be thinking of another poem. Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" has nothing to do with the underworld or venturing to the dark world beneath.

 As has already been mentioned in answers to a couple of other questions, Coleridge was inspired to write this poem by a dream. He had taken some medicine that made him drowsy, and he was reading a book about the Kubla Khan just as he was drifting off to sleep. When he woke up, he wrote down everthing he could remember.

This poem is very complex, and it is difficult to say what its theme might be, other than a poetic description of Kubla Khan's kingdom. The eNotes study guide states that

most assessments of “Kubla Khan” remain unable to answer with any degree of certainty the question of the poem's ultimate meaning. In part due to its status as a verse fragment and the continued controversy surrounding its origins, “Kubla Khan” has tended to discourage final interpretation. Nevertheless, most critics acknowledge that the juxtaposed images, motifs, and ideas explored in the poem are strongly representative of Romantic poetry.

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