Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kubla Khan (1797) Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

This is a good example of a poem having as many dimensions as you might like to afford it. On the one hand, there is no certainty as to exactly what Coleridge is talking about. However, it is also deemed by many critics to be profoundly symbolic (art v nature etc.). The poem does appear to most to have obvious sexual imagery, though Coleridge himself did not elaborate on any hidden depths or symbolic undertones. Kubla Khan was, upon its publication, widely denigrated by contemporary critics. Today, it is viewed as a work of genius.

Interesting fact: Coleridge (possessor of an egregious opium addiction) stated that he woke one morning having had a dream/vision of the entire text of Kubla Khan. The poem remained unfinished because, as he was in the midst of writing it down, he was interrupted by a knock at the door - it was a local village tradesman. After some small talk the villager departed, but Coleridge had now lost his train of thought and could not remember the rest of the poem! Bummer!

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