Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said that his dreams became the substance of his life. Nowhere is this more evident than in his poem “Kubla Khan.” Written just before the dawn of the 19th century, “Kubla Khan” was originally considered to be the simple ramblings of automatic and nonsensical writing, it is now viewed as one of the most famous poems from the Romantic Period of Literature (Hill). One of the most widely accepted opinions of the poem defines it as a comparison between two forms of paradise; a comparison that is achieved through the incredibly vivid language and the surrealistic ambiance that is created via the tone and form. Coleridge fabricates a fantastic world that eerily dances in a hypnagogic manner just like the visionary dream to which Coleridge accredits the poem.
Before understanding a created piece, one must understand its creator. Therefore, in order for the reader to fully appreciate and comprehend “Kubla Khan,” he or she must first be aware of Coleridge’s lifestyle and philosophy at the time that he wrote the poem. Although Coleridge attended college at the University of Cambridge in England, he did not graduate. Before receiving his degree, Coleridge dropped out of school to help found a utopian society in the Pennsylvanian wilderness with fellow poet, Robert Southey ("Samuel Taylor Coleridge- Biography."). The utopian society was intended to be a “Pantisocracy.” Pantisocracy is the idea of an equal government by and for all people. Although the utopian project fails to become a reality, Coleridge maintains a friendship with Robert Southey and is left with an appreciation of nature and a desire for a perfect paradise ("Samuel Taylor Coleridge- Biography."). This philosophical mindset lays the foundation for “Kubla Khan.”
Coleridge himself, was able to appreciate the sense of confusion his audiences felt after reading his poem’s complex and bizarre language, and so, when he published it in 1816, it was accompanied by a preface that explained the poem’s origin. In his preface, he explains that the fragmented poem was composed “in a sort of Reverie brought on by two grains of Opium” (Brett). Coleridge began indulging in opium and morphine while enrolled at Cambridge and by the time he had written “Kubla Khan,” he was addicted to them both due to his isolated and lonely lifestyle ("Samuel Taylor Coleridge- Biography."). The preface also explains that the poem is about fifty lines of what was intended to be between two and three hundred lines. While writing, Coleridge was stopped by a messenger and was unable to fully recollect his vision after the interruption (Brett). Coleridge’s drug addiction helps shed light on how he was able to achieve such an “enlightened” state to write the poem.
The poem commences with Kubla Khan, the legendary ruler of the Mongol Empire who invaded China and who had represented wealth, power, and mystery to European society since the time of Marco Polo (“Explanation: ‘Kubla Khan’”)....