Kubla Khan as a Romantic Poem
Kubla Khan is a triumph of romantic poetry. All the romantic associations are concentrated in this poem. It transports us out of the world of everyday life into a world of wonder and romance. Kubla Khan, an oriental king of the thirteenth century, orders a stately palace to be built in a romantic spot having a paradisal landscape. It is watered by the sacred river Alph which runs through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea. It contains many beautiful gardens “bright with sinuous rills” and “forests ancient as the hills.” There is a green hill down the slope of which runs a “deep romantic chasm” across a cover of cedar trees. It is “a savage place, as holy and enchanted as ever a place has been”. In the second part of the poem the poet takes us back to a far-off land of Abyssinia.
The poem is a glory of supernaturalism which is a great romantic tenet. A supernatural atmosphere hangs over the place. In the midst of the tumult produced by the river while flowing down to the lifeless sea Kubla hears from far ancestral voices prophesying war. The “ancestral voices” charge our mind with a sense of mystery.
The poem illustrates medievalism, an aspect of romanticism. The lines,
“A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!”
transport us to the Middle Ages ever associated with mystery and enchantment. They give the concentrated expression to Keats’s poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci which catches up the whole of the true medieval romantic spirit more than any other poem.
The Romantic poets used images to reflect the aesthetic element. Kubla Khan builds out of an imperial decree on a dome of a static perfection on a land that is sunny and fertile. The poet portrays the image of nature that is inhuman in addition to the sacred river, Alph. The chasm with its dancing rocks creates the river each moment and for all moments. The image of the deep chasm suggests darkness and evil spirits. The tumult of the ocean, where the river empties is linked with the tumult of ancestral voices prophesizing war. The image of Black Abyssinian maid who plays with an ancient instrument is highly suggestive.
Kubla Khan is remarkable for its sensuousness which is a great romantic feature. It is full of sensuous pictures such as bright gardens, incense-bearing trees in blossom, sunny spots of greenery, the shadow floating midway on the waves, hearing of mingled measure, etc. The description of a damsel playing on her dulcimer and singing on Mount Abora is essentially sensuous.
The picture of the poet himself in a state of fine frenzy is very sensuous. He has his eyes ‘flashing’ and hair ‘floating’ and fed on honey-dew and drunk the milk of Paradise. The images used in the poem are sensuous. The dome is an agreed emblem of fulfilment and satisfaction. It is breast-like, full to touch and eye, rounded and complete. In the first part of the poem it is mentioned three times, and every time the word ‘pleasure’ occurs with it as, ‘a stately pleasure dome’ (I. 2). ‘the dome of pleasure’ (I. 31) and ‘A sunny pleasure-dome’ (I. 36). In the second part it is mentioned twice, and once it is preceded by ‘sunny’ (I. 47). The other sensuous images are ‘rebounding hail’, ‘thresher’s flail’, ‘caves of ice’, etc. There are many suggestive phrases which contribute to sensuous effects, e.g. ‘cedarn cover’, ‘woman wailing’, ‘waning moon’, ‘dancing rocks’, ‘flashing eyes’, ‘floating hair’, etc.
Imagination played a crucial role in Romantic Poetry. Kubla Khan depends on the imagination of S.T. Coleridge. He said that one day he was reading a hook concerning a ruler called Cublai Can who built a stately palace in a city” Zamdu”, in a place surrounded by fertile meadow, pleasant springs, delightful streams and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, a real house of pleasure/In the middle of his reading he fells sleep after taking a drug for not being well he continued for about three hours in that fruitful sleep and composed no leg than two or three hundred poetic lines (in his dream). On awakening, he wrote down instantly and early the lines that lately appeared as a poem named “Kubla Khan”, but he went in a business with a friend a friend and when he returns he forget many lines and images .
Being a dream poem Kubla Khan has all the essences to be a perfect romantic poem. Coleridge represents that side of the romantic imagination which seeks to lose itself in dreams-to conjure up a phantasmal world. Kubla Khan is a dream poem. It has all the marks of a dream-vividness, free association and inconsequence. This dream quality contributes to making the poem romantic. To conclude, Kubla Khan is a great achievement of romantic poetry.