Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Poetry Reads: Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Culbone Church in Somerset, England where Coleridge is said to have written the poem

Kubla Khan is the assimilation of imagination, language and eloquence. In 1797, Coleridge lived in Nether Stowey where he took walks with William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy at Quantock Hills (the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). On his way to Lynton, he was unwell and he recuperated with the aid of laudanum at Ash Farm at Culbone Church. At this time, he read British clergyman and geographer, Samuel Purchas’ book titled Purchas, his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and Religions Observed in All Ages and Places Discovered, from the Creation to the Present. This book included a description of Xanadu which was Kubla Khan’s summer capital. He fell asleep while reading it and he dreamed a scene of Kubla Khan. He woke up to write down the dream sequence; while he was past writing down a couple of lines, he was interrupted by the famous ‘visitor from Porlock’ who has been referenced and quoted by several authors today including Murakami. When he returned to writing it, he managed to write the recollection of the dream. Later what emerged was a fragmented piece of poetry.

Although fragmented and abstract, Kubla Khan is abundant with imagery and it is eloquent in language.The poem starts with Kubla Khan wanting a summer palace to be built across a land where the river Alph ran through caves and finally, to the depth of a ‘sunless sea’. There is the landscape of a picture - perfect place ‘with sunny spots of greenery’. However the narration takes a turn towards the gothic with ‘A savage place! As holy and enchanted’. Further he describes that ‘beneath a waning moon was haunted by a woman wailing for her demon-lover!’ From the many manifold abstractions, there is a surge of creative outburst ‘as if this Earth in fast, thick pants were breathing’ until ‘Kubla heard from far Ancestral voices prophesying war!’ while there is the contrast of a ‘sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!’

The last stanza described is of another time and landscape which are a hint at the poet’s inspiration and the creativity. The 'Abyssinian maid’ ‘singing of Mount Abora’ is an illustration of it. The last couple of lines are terrific and it is a mere suggestion that this poem be read for the relevance of Coleridge’s writing process. Simply marvelous!

(Article by Kabita Sonowal) 

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