Kubla Khan and the Orient



In the selected poems of S.T.Coleridge, the them of Kubla Khan attracts me a lot. For it shows a unique exotic subject. As Coleridge said, Kubla Khan is the product of the poet’s dream after the use of opium. By dint of superb writing techniques, Coleridge describes the Orient that he dreamed of; yet his attitude towards the Orient is ambiguous in the reality. The background of the writing of Kubla Khan is directly related with the Orient. In autocratic monarchy, palace is the symbol of the kingship; the poem starts from Kubla’s decree of building a pleasure-dome: 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 greenery. The poet uses “gardens”, “hills”, “forests”, “rill”, to present the Chinese style and features of the royal palace. “It flung up momently the sacred river/ five miles meandering with a mazy motion/ through wood and dale the sacred river ran,/ then reached the caverns measureless to man,/ and sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean.” “Flung up”, “meandering”, “measureless” give the readers the feeling of endless, at the same time, make the Orient fascinating and mysterious. By depicting the environment, Coleridge creates an utopia with an orient flavor.

In the poem, Coleridge builds his own paradise based on his imagination to the Orient. However, in his lecture, he attacks the debasing effect of the trade with the east in luxury goods, “gold, diamonds, silks, muslins and calicoes for fine Ladies and Prostitutes. Tea to make a pernicious Beverage, Porcelain to drink it from, and salt-petre for the making of gunpowder with which we may murder the poor Inhabitants who supply all these things.” The speech shows the attitude of the author towards the Orient is anxious, worried, and even a little detest. Coleridge considers that the consequence of the trade did more harm than good, the British pay the price for the trade, but only ladies and prostitutes get benefits from it. Thus it can be seen, Coleridge’s feeling to the Orient varies, on the one side, in the poem, Coleridge highly praises how magnificent the Orient is; on the other side, his private evaluation on the Orient is negative. It may well be supposed, what a contrariety of emotion they excited.





Image Sources:

  1. https://fathertheo.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/kubla-khan-by-samuel-taylor-coleridge/

2. http://www.artmagick.com/Poetry/poem.aspx?id=11597&name=coleridge-kubla-khan
































  1. The Collected Works of S.T.Coleridge ed. K.Coburn et al. 16 vols Princeton1969- i

3 thoughts on “Kubla Khan and the Orient

  1. You have some interesting observations here. I never read the poem as presenting the negative aspects of trade with the orient, probably because the initial description of this exotic setting is so overpowering.

    This composition has redeemed Coleridge in my eyes. I am willing to see this poem as more than just a greedy colonizer’s perspective that exoticizing this foreign land.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Personally, I really enjoy reading Coleridge because of his literary style and per say unusual muses. The ambiguity of the poem I believe is what defines it. I like how you mentioned that “Coleridge builds his own paradise based on his imagination to the Orient” which I believe is true; his own paradise and “utopia” is constructed through his own personal depiction and imagination of the stories he probably read or imagined. Thanks for the analysis and blog!:)


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