Kubla Khan as a Supernatural Poem
If Wordsworth represents that side of the Romantic Movement which is described as the return to Nature, Coleridge has justification for the phrase ‘Renascence of Wonder’ of which supernaturalism is one of the manifestations. He revives the supernatural as a literary force. He discards the objective representation of the supernatural (e.g. noise, thunder, awful physical appearances of ghosts and goblins, etc.), presents it as a psychic phenomenon and treats it as part of the vast mystery of life. He invests it with that air of suggestion and indefiniteness which stirs the imagination most potently and secures for the supernatural “that willing suspension of disbelief that constitutes poetic faith.” He often transforms a simple natural object into a sort of supernatural phenomenon. He works on the simple idea that on the extreme verge of the natural begins the domain of the supernatural. He observes out- of-the-way aspects of natural objects and then out of the reality observed reaches out into the domain of the supernatural.
Kubla Khan is one of the three poems of Coleridge on the supernatural, the other two being The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel. It illustrates Coleridge’s method of treating the supernatural. It has nothing supernatural in the sense we understand it or as we find it in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel.
One of Supernaturalism based upon a dream. Dream, physiologically is a reaction or response to neural process during sleep. Kubla khan is essentially a dream poem recounting in a poetic form what he saw in a vision.
In Kubla Khan everything is natural, though distant, out-of-the-way and mysterious. Coleridge 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 spot which has a paradisal landscape. A weird atmosphere hangs over the place. The sacred river Alph runs through caverns ‘measureless to man down to a sunless sea”. The suggestive expressions like ‘caverns measureless to man’ and ‘sunless sea’ indicates their out-of-the-way aspect and create in us the sense of mystery and wonder. The reference to the ‘deep romantic chasm’ slanting down the green hill across a cover of cedar trees adds to the weird atmosphere. The manner the water gushes out from this chasm is beyond the natural. The water rushes out with so much speed and sound that “this earth in fast thick pants were breathing.” The description,
“A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted…..”
intensifies the weird atmosphere of the place thousand fold. The ancestral voices Kubla seems to hear from far in the tumult of the river Alph charge our mind with a sense of mystery.
Thus, Coleridge squeezes the supernatural effects out of the objects that belong to the world of nature. The river, caverns, sea, forests, fountain, chasm, etc. are all natural objects. But he emphasizes their out-of-way aspect so skilfully that they cross the bounds of the natural and impress us as supernatural. Moreover, he ever strives to make the supernatural psychologically convincing to ensure the reader’s belief. Once we accept that Kubla hears ancestral voices prophesying war, it becomes psychologically convincing because he is himself a soldier and always thinks of war. But the poet does not tell us what kind of war is foretold by ancestral voices. It is left indefinite and we are to guess and guess.
As in Christabel Coleridge here transports us to the Middle Ages proverbially associated with magic and enchantment on which supernaturalism thrives. The expression, “woman wailing for her demon-lover” conjures up the picture of a medieval woman wandering about moaning in search of her demon-lover who deserted her after having made love to her. All the supernatural associations of the Middle Ages are concentrated in this expression which can be expanded into as good a poem as Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
The description of the poet himself in a state of fine frenzy gives the poem a supernatural touch. When he is poetically inspired he becomes a super-human being with “flashing eyes and floating hair”, a being of an alien world who feeds on honey-dew and drinks the milk of Paradise. His appearance inspires awe in the onlookers, and they need to draw round him a magic circle thrice with a view to protecting themselves against his magical influence. To conclude, Kubla Khan is a fine supernatural poem.