Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”: Between Dream And Reality

1848 words - 7 pages

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” is a short poem that depicts “the Author[’s]” dream as a result of reading a book called Purchas’s Pilgrimage and falling into an anodyne (opium) induced sleep. Coleridge was in fact high on opium when he composed this story from unconscious composition via a dream. He then later put his vision to words. Coleridge did not intend himself to be directly portrayed by the readers as “the Author” character depicted in the poem. The public’s reaction to the poem then and today, why Coleridge has set up “the Author,” as well as why Coleridge chose the two part introduction/dream format play a large role in how the poem should be analyzed in order to investigate its true purpose and meaning.
  History proves that the more time progresses the more open minded society becomes to an idea. A prime example of how society’s views change with time is what was once thought as magic is now proven science. Therefore, the thought of the unconscious composition of “Kubla Khan” is more likely to be accepted by today’s readers than it was by the Romantic Era’s rational-thinking critics. Stefan Ball, author of “Coleridge’s Ancestral Voices,” stated in his critical essay that Coleridge conducted his writing towards the end of the Age of Reason. “Kubla Khan” was ill-accepted at the time of publication because society believed that “[the] conscious mind was the key to progress and enlightenment; unbridled self-expression had yet to become fashionable; tradition and continuity were valued more than novelty; and artifice in art was still a sign of quality.” Ball also points out in his essay that, “[with] few exceptions the reading public adhered to critical standards based on experience and reason, and there was little room in either for unadorned dreaming” (Ball).
  When “Kubla Khan” was published in 1816, critics, magazine reviews, and fellow authors all negatively criticized the poem because it was different from the usual realistic art and outside of their comfort zone. The concept of publishing unconscious imagination went against everything that they believed art should represent. Stephan Ball shares that, “art was considered admissible only if it was tempered and controlled by conscious thought and technique.” Furthermore, he quotes: 'There seems to be no great harm in dreaming while one sleep's,’ the Augustan Review concluded, 'but an author really should not thus dream while he is awake, and writing too' (Ball). Tapping into the dream world and not giving art intellectual conscious thought was frowned on. William Hazlitt, a literary critic of the Romantic period, idolized Coleridge at one point and was even close friends with him for a time. After their falling out for many reasons on both sides, Hazlitt began to openly criticize Coleridge’s personal choices as well as his works. Hazlitt perceived “Kubla Khan” as a poem fragment with an introduction by Coleridge as most of his peers did. Hazlitt reviewed and negatively...

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