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‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel T. Coleridge Summary

About the poet

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the leader of the British Romantic movement. He was born on October 21, 1772, in Devonshire, England. He also shared volumes and collaborated with Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, and Charles Lloyd. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on William Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking cultures.

Read the poem – Kubla Khan


Kubla Khan is Coleridge’s one of the most famous works. It is believed that the poet had written this poem after waking up from a strange and hallucinatory dream under the heavy influence of opium. In the beginning of the poem, the poet describes about the scenic beauty of Xanadu, the capital of the Mongolian ruler Kubla Khan. The emperor orders from his lavish summer palace. The sacred river Alph runs through the place and finally falls into the sea after travelling through various caves. The poet tells us that the fertile land is protected by huge walls and towers, with gardens contributing in the beautification of the capital. He further continues to describe the scenic beauty of the place. Forests with sweet smelling trees, and ancient hills contribute to the greenery.

In the second stanza, the poet takes a step further to describe the mystic environment of the place. Greenery can be observed all around the environment. The mysterious chasm is also covered with greens. He calls it a haunted place where a woman is wailing in the memory of her demon-lover. A fountain runs from this chasm making a roaring sound at intervals. This outburst of water throws up the rocks everywhere. The sound it produces is quite similar to hailstones falling on the earth or like that of chaffy grains beneath the thresher’s tool. The poet again describes the flow of the river Alph in the next lines. It flows through valleys and woods and caves and falls into the lifeless ocean. Amidst this noise, Kubla Khan hears ancestral voices foretelling him of the incoming wars. The palace was built between mighty spring and caves measureless to men. Its shadow appears to be floating in middle of the holy river. The architecture of the palace is quite unique with its sunny pleasure dome and icy caves.

In the next part, the speaker moves away from the scenery and talks about an Abyssinian girl playing on a dulcimer. She was playing a sweet melody about Mount Abora. If it was possible for the speaker to revive the melody of her song, it would fill him with a deep delight. He could use it as an inspiration to write powerful poetry to describe the marvelous palace of Kubla Khan. He says that his description would be so powerful that all those who listen to his songs can see the imagery in their minds. They would think the ruler as a magician and make others beware of his flashing eyes and floating hair; weave a circle around him and close their eyes in fear. This gives us a terrifying image of the emperor. In the end the speaker says that people would say that Kubla Khan  had been fed on honey-dew and the Milk of Paradise.

The poem abruptly comes to an end here, as it is said that Coleridge couldn’t remember any further visions of his dream.

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