Samuel Coleridge's Kubla Khan and the Unconscious
Samuel Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan is a metaphorical journey through a complex labyrinth of symbols and images that represent the unconscious and seemingly troubled mind. It is a voyage that continually spirals downward toward uncharted depths, while illustrating the unpredictable battle between the conscious and the unconscious that exists inside every individual. Moreover, the poem appears to follow a dreamlike sequence past numerous, vivid images that are mainly artificial recreations of the narrator’s (most likely Coleridge’s) previous thoughts and experiences.
Kubla Khan, however, is predominantly a mosaic of fragments of thoughts and incomplete themes. Most likely, the reader observes that poetic material perpetually escapes Coleridge’s full attention, while the poem simultaneously contains profound gushes of documented creativity. One is led to believe that this continual tension between recorded and unrecorded poetic thought creates the unique narrative sequence and the mysterious, disturbing quality that embodies Coleridge’s story of Kubla Khan.
Moreover, these various fragments all combine to instill a sense of ambiguity throughout the poem. In a sense, as the poem progresses, the audience discovers further and more troublesome questions regarding its message and its implications. The audience, perhaps, even begins to wonder if there are indeed absolute answers or whether Coleridge consciously intended to create an unresolved poem. Amid this unsettling tumult of questions, one is left to dedicatedly follow Coleridge’s journey in a sequential manner in an attempt to consider and ponder these ambiguities as they arise. Inevitably, however, lingering questions will undoubtedly remain regarding the universal implications of these specific images and symbols that are primarily the result of Coleridge’s apparent, intentional ambiguity.
Although there is no consistent syntax, rhyme, or meter in Kubla Khan, the poem begins its journey through the mind in a conscious and calculating manner. The first four lines of the poem, in fact, appear to almost directly derive from a passage of Purchas’s Pilgrimage, as the narrative voice slowly drifts into a dreamlike state. Coleridge’s paraphrasing of a relatively accessible, published piece of literature seems to provide the narrator with a solid foundation to build his seemingly inaccessible poem upon.
The fifth line, however, is marked by an indentation. The words “down to the sunless sea” (5) appear to initiate an abrupt drop into the unconscious and away from the character Kubla. There is an initial sense of natural mysticism and Eastern tranquility among the “gardens bright with sinuous rills” (8) and a vibrant, “incense-bearing tree” (9) in this scene of fertile greenery. Interestingly, the color green, uniquely, exists on a dual level, as it is able to convey the vitality of life and vegetation, while simultaneously conveying an...