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.
Kubla Khan was the founder of the Mongol Dynasty in China. He ordered a grand palace to be built. The site of the palace was the place through which the sacred river Alph flowed through dark caves to the sea which was so deep where sunlight never reached.
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 greenry.
The site of the palace was ten miles long. The walls and towers of the palace encircled a large area of beautiful garden with aromatic trees. It was surrounded by primitive forest which was as old as the hills in the area. There were many spots in the forest where sunshine peaked through.
But oh, that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover
A savage place, as holy and enchanted
As ever beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover
There was a deep fissure which went down the hill and it was surrounded by thick forest of cedar trees. It was a savage place and it was enchanted too. It was a haunted place, like a place underneath the waning moon. One could hear the cried of witches calling for their demon lover.
Waning moon, witches and demon lover are used to depict an eerie place. The poet has tried to depict a haunted place which is often associated with witchcraft and magic.
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced,
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail
An amid these dancing rocks at once and ever
If flung up momently the sacred river.
There is never-ending turmoil seething from the deep fissure in the ground. It is seething as if the earth is panting to breathe its last. A mighty fountain gushes out intermittently from the chasm, as if venting all the anger hidden inside the earth. Along with the fountain, come out rocks to fall again on the ground, as hailstorm. The poet has compared these rebounding rocks with grains and chaff, which jump and fall when the thresher uses his flail. Sometimes, the river also jumps in the air along with these dancing rocks.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran
Then reached the caverns measureless to man
An sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean,
And amid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war
The sacred river meandered through a maze of channels through the forest and the valley. After that the river reached the caves which are too deep and long to be conceived by human imagination. Then the river sank in the lifeless ocean with a roar. Here, the poet has beautifully juxtaposed two contrasting traits, i.e. of thundering noise when a river falls in ocean and the calm ocean.
Amid all this agitation, Kubla heard that his ancestors were forecasting about a war for which he needs to be ready. Here, the poet means to say that life is not a bed of roses. You get to see many ups and downs in life. Pleasure and challenges are bundled together.
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves
It was a miracle of rare device
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice
The shadow of the grand dome is falling on the waves and is giving an impression that the shadow is floating on the waves. One could hear the music of the nature from the mountains and caves. The poet says that the palace is a fine example of design and architecture. Its dome is warm because it is well lit with the sun. But the inner parts of the palace are cold because of presence of ice underneath.
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played
Singing of Mount Abora
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song
To such a deep delight, ‘twould win me,
A lady is playing a dulcimer and singing a song about Mount Abora. Dulcimer is a string instrument. The lady is from Abyssinia, which means that she has been brought from a distant land. Her song about the Mount Abora signifies that the lady is feeling homesick and hence is singing about her homeland. If anyone could revive that song inside himself, it would be a pleasure to do that.
We can correlate it with the condition of slaves and migrant workers when situation forces them to live and work away from their homeland. In today’s globalised world many people leave their countries to live and work in foreign nations. They often enjoy the fruits of success but they always miss the aroma of their motherland’s soil.
Kumar, Dharmender. "Kubla Khan (Xanadu) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge". Poem Analysis, https://poemanalysis.com/samuel-taylor-coleridge/kubla-khan/. Accessed 7 August 2022.
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