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What does "fed on honeydew" and "drunk the milk of paradise" mean in "Kubla Khan"?

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The phrases "fed on honeydew" and "drunk the milk of paradise" in "Kubla Khan" represent the poet's immersion into the profound, prophetic world of the artist's imagination, despite its dangers. This deeper imagination, depicted through potent sexual imagery, is not merely pleasant but rather visionary, offering a unique "music". The phrases also draw a parallel between the realm of imagination and paradise, indicating that artists with visionary experiences should be revered like holy figures.

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In "Kubla Khan," Coleridge describes two types of imagination. First, there is the ordinary imagination of the average person, who, in the first stanza, conjures up pleasant images of incense, gardens, and "sunny spots of greenery" in a lovely kingdom.

In the second stanza, the speaker moves to the deeper poetic imagination of the artist and prophet. This goes beyond the mere pleasant and pretty and explodes into powerful sexual imagery of waterfalls, a "romantic chasm," "fast thick pants," and the "burst" of a "mighty fountain." This is a deeper, more forceful, potent, and dangerous imagination.

Although this is a dangerous place, it is also a visionary place, offering the speaker a "music" like none other. He says at the end of the poem that he has fed on "honeydew" and "drank the milk of paradise" because, despite his "holy dread," he has braved his fears to immerse himself in this deeper, prophetic world of the artist's imagination.

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In "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, there is a parallel between the world of imagination and paradise. For many cultures, especially earlier ones where the majority of people struggled to get adequate amounts of food, paradise was conceived as a place where luxurious foods would be available in unlimited quantity without effort. Milk and honeydew melon are especially images of luxury from a desert culture -- the paradise imagined in this poem is almost Islamic despite Kubla Khan having been Mongolian.

The ending, suggesting that people should be in awe of the poet or artist who can recapture dream visions and create works of imagination is linked to the notion that this visionary experience is like being given a glimpse or experience of paradise, and artists who have it should be held in the same awe as holy men and women who have purely religious visions.

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