Kubla Khan as a Fragmentary Poem

Kubla Khan cannot be dismissed as an incoherent opium dream (i.c. as mere incoherence). It is a meaningful poem.

From the history of the composition of Kubla Khan it is obvious that the poem was left unfinished. Though the poem is a fragment, we hardly feel it is so.

“We have a satisfying sense of completeness of the wheel having come full circle, of the magic of words and images having cast their plenary spell upon us. It is a dream conforming to the laws of dream-logic and carried to its full climax of suggestiveness; as much of a rounded and perfect whole as a vision is capable of being.”

(Dr. S. K. Banerjee & A. D. Mukherji)

The poem is divided into two parts. The first part (II. 1-36) describes the magnificent pleasure-place which Kubla Khan orders to be built in Xanadu, a place gifted with a paradisal landscape and full of bright gardens with meandering streams and blossoming incense-bearing trees, very ancient forests and spots overgrown with green mass of vegetation. There is also a hill with a deep mysterious chasm running down its slope. From this chasm water gushes out with such a great speed that huge pieces of rocks are scattered on all sides. It was a savage place, as holy and enchanted as the one frequented by a woman seduced and then deserted by a demon in human form. The sacred river Alph which is formed of the water bursting out of this chasm, winds five miles across the whole landscape and at last falls to a lifeless ocean with roaring sound. In the midst of the tumult of the river Kubla Khan can hear from far the voices of his ancestors foretelling war.

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In the second part the poet speaks in his own person. He has a vision of an Abyssinian maid playing on her dulcimer and singing of Mount Abora. Mount Abora is Mount Amara, and Mount Amara is a fabled paradise. “So the Abyssinian maid is singing”, as Graham Hough says, “of a paradisal landscape very much like that of the opening lines-singing in fact of the same cluster of ideas under a different name and guise.” If the poet can relive her song in his imagination, he himself can build the magic pleasure-dome as Kubla Khan has done. Thus in the second part the poet makes an attempt to realize the dream-to give it a concrete form. The second part does not hang independently of the first part. Both the parts are related, and they complement each other. J. B. Beer rightly says, “certainly it is difficult to see how the poem could be carried on after the last stanza: the argument is there brought to an end with overwhelming finality.” The poem as it stands does present a meaning consistent both with itself and with that we know of Coleridge’s mind. Moreover, the images of the poem are so tightly drawn together and so closely interlocked that any addition will upset the balance. To sum up, Kubla Khan is not mere incoherence or a fragment.

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