Student Question

How does "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge portray individualism?

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Coleridge's poem expresses a very dreamy, imaginative vision that is characteristic of the Romantic emphasis on individualism and the importance of one person's unique perceptions. Coleridge prefaces the poem with the description, "Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment," conveying to the reader that the vision conveyed in the poem came to him in a dream and has all the confusing and imaginative symbolism of a dream.

The vastness and eeriness of the landscape and the solitary people in the poem enhance the idea of the lone individual. The poem begins by describing Xanadu and its surroundings, including the river Alph and "caverns measureless to man," conveying a sense that humans are lost and alone in the vastness of nature and highlighting the idea that the individual is alone in this dreamy and vast landscape. The palace is "With walls and towers...girdled round," suggesting that the people in the tower are isolated individuals, cut off from the rest of the world. In the second stanza, Coleridge describes a "deep romantic chasm" that is "enchanted" where a woman cries out for her lover. Here, the earth is strange and unpredictable, as it it is described as breathing in "fast thick pants." The earth offers no comfort or sense of mastery to the lone people who populate it.

In the third stanza, an unnamed narrator describes an idiosyncratic vision of a woman he imagines with a dulcimer in a way that attempts to replicate a dream that only he can understand. The third stanza enhances the individualism of the poem by conveying a strange vision that involves an Abyssinian maid and a strange creature with "flashing eyes...floating hair!" These cryptic and disconnected visions come from the narrator's fervid imagination and highlight the idea that this poem comes from a very individual vision of the world. The narrator does not attempt to bring logic to these disconnected visions; he instead presents them as the product of an individual imagination that only makes complete sense to the person who dreamed them up, highlighting the importance of the individual in creation.

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