Critical Commentary on Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan is a fascinating and exasperating poem.   Almost everyone has read it, almost everyone has been charmed by its magic, almost everyone thinks he knows what it is about -- and almost everyone, it seems, has felt impelled to write about it.   It must surely be true that no poem of comparable length in English or any other language has been the subject of so much critical commentary.   Its fifty-four lines have spawned thousands of pages of discussion and analysis.   Kubla Khan is the sole or a major subject in five book-length studies;1 close to 150 articles and book-chapters (doubtless I have missed some others) have been devoted exclusively to it; and brief notes and incidental comments on it are without number.   Despite this deluge, however, there is no critical unanimity and very little agreement on a number of important issues connected with the poem:   its date of composition, its "meaning", its sources in Coleridge's reading and observation of nature, its structural integrity (i.e. fragment versus complete poem), and its relationship to the Preface by which Coleridge introduced it on its first publication in 1816.

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      In a moment of rash optimism a notable scholar once began an essay by declaring that "We now know almost everything about Coleridge's Kubla Khan except what the poem is about". The truth of the matter, however, is that we know almost nothing conclusive about Kubla Khan, including what it is about.   This flower plucked in Paradise (or on Parnassus) and handed down to us by Coleridge is, indeed, a miracle of rare device; but like all miracles it is largely elusive.

Perhaps the strangest fact connected with this strange poem is the dearth of early ...

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