Kubla Khan and its Relation to Romanticism
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Kubla Khan and its Relation to Romanticism 'Kubla Khan,' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is one of the most enigmatic and ambiguous pieces of literature ever written. Allegedly written after a laudanum (an opiate) induced dream, the author claims to have been planning a two hundred to three hundred line poem before he got interrupted by a 'man from Porlock,' after which he had forgotten nearly all of his dream. This may have been merely an excuse, and the poem was scorned at the time for having no poetic value, one critic even going so far as to call it 'more a musical composition than a poem.' This is partly true, as the language seems to strive for an aural beauty more than a literary beauty, although it accomplishes both. Like many great artists, Coleridge has been most appreciated after his death, when his radically different works could be justified, as the ideas presented in his works hadn't been popular during his life. Coleridge's philosophy in life was very romantic, and so nearly all of his poems exemplify the romantic ideal, especially Kubla Khan. This romantic poem uses brilliant imagery and metaphors to contrast the ideals of romantic paganism with often ingratious Christianity. The vision of paganism is the first idea introduced in the poem. The super-natural reference to 'Alph,' or Alpheus as it is historically known, 'the sacred river, [which] ran/ Through caverns measureless to man/ Down to a sunless sea,' begins this pagan theme by referring to an underground river that passed through dimensions that could not be understood by any man, and then emptying into an underground sea.
Another example of concave and convex is line 36, 'A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!' The juxtaposition here is further dramatized by the combination of the convex with heat and the concave with ice. The materialism of this dome is proven and emphasized when the author writes: 'The shadow of the dome of pleasure/ Floated midway on the waves.' The description of the dome's shadow proves that the dome is material because only those things constructed of real material can cast a shadow. The romantic term 'suspension of disbelief' is shown when Coleridge describes the 'mingled measure/ From the fountain and the caves.' The suspension of disbelief is when an author writes something that is factually impossible, but must simply be read as it was written by the author for the effect of the writing. This ocean was described as being 'silent' at the beginning of the poem, and it was five miles away from the fountain that could be heard from it. This term was originally coined by Coleridge, one year after the poem was published. The number five can be found twice in Kubla Khan, the first time when speaking of Khan's palace of Xanadu. Coleridge goes out of his way to use the number five here, saying 'twice five miles' instead of simply saying ten. The second use of the number five is after the pleasure dome has been subdued by nature's wrath. The significance of the number five is huge in paganism.
Napoleon was deeply hated by the British, and so warmongering may have been a subject that he had hoped people could relate and thus connect to. It didn't seem to have worked, however, as his work was widely scorned. Despite this scorning, however, Kubla Khan is a literary work that has stirred more interest than almost any other poem ever written, at least one of such short length. Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses amazingly implicative imagery and allegory to show his romantic ideals of paganism over Christianity. He does this with amazingly complex metaphors and imagery, such that are so ambiguous as to suggest not having a purpose at all. The ambiguousness he creates is a strong example of romanticism, something that is ambiguous in of itself, as one writer said: Some scholars see romanticism as completely continuous with the present, some see it as the inaugural moment of modernity, some see it as the beginning of a tradition of resistance to the Enlightenment, and still others date it firmly to the direct aftermath of the French Revolution. The topic is complex enough that most characteristics taken as defining Romanticism have also been taken as its opposite by different scholars. (Romanticism) This ambiguity creates a sort of literary mist, and one can not help but to feel that somewhere underneath this mist, perhaps in a chasm or a cave, is the meaning of life itself. This feeling is what draws so many to Kubla Khan, and it is this unexplainable feeling that keeps such fervid study buzzing about it. Such a feeling can only be created by a True Genius, and Coleridge proves himself to be one in Kubla Khan.
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