Kubla Khan: by S. T. Coleridge Line by Line Summary & Analysis

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      L. 1-10. In the capital city of Xanadu, Kubla Khan orders a magnificent pleasure - house to be built for himself. It is erected on the site where the holy river Alph flowed into the dark waters of the sea. The river in its long course, flows through abysmal gorges whose depth could hardly be measured. The chosen site covered a spacious ground, ten miles square. It is enclosed with walls and towers and was rich in vegetation. There are fine gardens inside the walls through which flows sparkling streams in their zig-zag courses. There are a large number of spice plants in full blossom. Part of the ground is covered with forests, old as the hills. Every where, and there inside those forests are beautiful sunlit glades.

      L. 11-30. A deep, marvelously beautiful gorge ran down the green slope of the hills sheltered by tall cedar trees on either side. It is too beautiful for words. It is a grim and awesome spot. It had an eerie and sanctified look as if under a magic spell. It thus seems to provide the right kind of setting under the waning moon for a woman in love with a demon to come out mourning plaintively for her absent lover. Through the gap in the earth, a huge jet of water gushed out every now and then foaming and roaring all the while. It seemed as if the whole earth was heaving thick and fast and spouting out this fountain moment by moment. In the midst of these bursts of water, quickly followed each other, huge boulders came toppling down from rock to rock. They seem like hail-stones which bounce off on hitting the ground. Sometimes by impact they break into little fragments and resembles the chaff of grain which came flying up from the threshing-floor when beaten by the short thick sticks of the threshers. In the midst of all these rocks toppling around all the time, jet by jet the fountain fed the waters of the holy river. The river ran along in its zig-zag course of miles through forest and valley. It then tumbles into a gorge of limitless depth and merges in the end with a great uproar into the calm stretch of the waters of the ocean. In the midst of all the rush and roar of waters, Kubla Khan hears the departed spirits of his ancestors warning him about the wars ahead.

      L. 31-36. The pleasure-house cast its reflection on the waves of the sea. It stretchs, as it were, sunk half way below the surface of waters. The place lay within the hearing of the blends music of the fountain and the river as it flows through the caves. The building was a work of marvellous art, of such surpassing beauty, the like of which is never seen on earth. It is surmounted by a dome, lit up by the sun. By way of contrast, its halls made of dazzling white marble and alabaster were refreshing too. They resemble in their whiteness and coolness the "caves of ice".

      L. 36-54. The poet once has a vision of a young maid playing on her instrument. She is from Abyssinia and is singing about true romantic charms of her native hill of Mount Abora. The poet wishes he can by some chance rouse within himself the memory of that music and song. He can work himself up to an ecstasy in that case. He will then create anew that pleasure-house in the air by strains of music, loud and long, people around him will feel awe-struck at his strange looks. There will be a glow in his eyes and his hair will stream in the wind. They will draw magic circles around him to keep him safe from harm. He will look like one possess who has been filled with divine frenzy of the poet and prophet by eating of the heavenly manna.


      L. 17-26. Down the green.....seething. While describing the landscape of Kubla Khan's pleasure house, Coleridge introduces a few startling and romantic details. A deep gorges, marvellously beautiful, slope down the green hill side, well hidden by tall cedars on either side. It was too beautiful for words. That particular spot has a grim and horrible look. It seemed at the same time peculiarly sanctified and lying under a magic sell. On the whole it was rather eerie and grotesque as if the stage is set for the most marvellous happenings. It provides the right kind of setting in which a mortal woman who has loved and lost her demon-lover might come out lamenting, passionately. The sickle-moon in the sky would further heighten the grim and grotesque effect of the whole scene.

      L. 26-30. Through wood.....dome of pleasure. In these lines from Kubla Khan, Coleridge describes the course of the sacred river Alph. The river has its headwaters in a fountain gushing out of gorge on the hill-side in the spacious ground of Kubla Khan's pleasure-house. In its early course, it ran in a zig-zag way through forests and valleys for five miles. It then tumbles into a deep gorge of limitless depth. In the end it emerged from its underground bed and flows into the calm waters of the ocean with a mighty roar. Through this deafening noise, the king hears the voice of his forefathers leaching his ears, they were warning him about the wars ahead. The idea is suggested by the poet's reading. The priests of Kubla Khan and the holy men of Abyssinia (described by Bruce in travels to discover the source of the Nile), both prophesied about wars. Coleridge has lately been writing against the war with France. It may also be noted that ancestor worship is a venerable custom both in China and Japan for long ages. Coleridge is particularly fond of the eerie and supernatural in his poetry. This reference to ghostly spirits warning the king about the wars ahead is a typical touch.

      L. 31-36. The shadow.....caves of ice. In these lines, Coleridge describes the magnificent pleasure-house of Kubla Khan as it stands on the sea-front and casts its reflection on the waves lapping the shore. The reflection lays suspended, as it is, half-way down below the surface. It stands within hearing of the blended music of the waters of the fountain and river coursing through the caves. The building itself is of surpassing beauty and seems to be hardly the work of human hands. It is nothing short of a miracle. Its dome overhead is bright and warm with sunlight. Down below, however, the halls, built with marble and alabaster, is dazzlingly white and marvellously cool. They seems to be so many "caves of ice"

      L. 37-41. A damsel.....Mount Abora. While describing Kubla Khan's magnificent palace, Coleridge rather abruptly switches off to this image of an Abyssinian maid. One critic observes that he here "runs off the rails". What he actually does is to turn, without preparing the reader sufficiently, from the main theme to dwelling on his own vocation as a poet. He has once a vision of an Abyssinian maid playing on her instrument most ravishingly. She has sang to the accompaniment of her dulcimer about the manifold charms of her native haunt of Mount Abora. The poet heartily wishes, he could capture her art and inspiration. He then makes anew a dream-place in the air with power of his song.

      L. 42-48. Could I.....see them there. After he has described the magnificent palace of Kubla Khan, Coleridge turns to his own vocation as a poet and the power and vision of poetry. He once has a vision of an Abyssinian maid playing on her own instrument most ravishingly. He wishes he could by some chance get her marvellous gift. He longs to refresh the memory of that music and song. By that means he could work himself up to the fine frenzy of a poet. He can create a new pleasure house in the sky by the power of his song and music-that splendid building complete with all its marvellous features, the sun-lit cupola and the white and charmingly cool halls of alabaster and marble resembling "caves of ice".

      L. 49-54. And all should.....milk of Paradise. Coleridge switches off rather abruptly from his theme of describing Kubla Khan's pleasure house to dealing with the poet's mission-his art and vision. He once has a vision of an Abyssinian maid playing on her instrument most ravishingly. He wishes with all his heart that he can capture for himself that maid's marvellous gift of music and song. He will in that case make a new magnificent palace in the air for all to see. It is the poet's art of giving to airy nothings a local habitation and a name. He will indeed look very strange apparition, once inspires, to people around him. They will look with awe and wonder at his gleaming eyes and streaming locks of hair. They would give him a wide berth and draw magic circles around him to keep him at a safe distance. To them he would look like one possessed with those food which is not the food of ordinary men but something exotic like honey-dew or some heavenly stuff of the class of manna or ambrosia or nectar which he fancifully calls "the milk of Paradise".

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