Kubla Khan ~ Explanation fo the Peom

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Kubla Khan ~ Explanation fo the Peom

Post by Archer on Mon Jan 24, 2011 5:44 am

explanation of lexemes / paraphrase of the text

(1) Title: Kubla Khan is a man of great power, bearing the title of an Asian ruler (see background; also for information on the subtitle).

(1-5) Kubla's resides in Xanadu, a place, town, area, country, etc. of great natural beauty and of mystery (s.b). According to his decree (a sovereign's formal order) a pleasure dome is built, i.e. a large vaulting edifice providing room for all kinds of physical, mental etc. enjoyment (see background). Both the dome and the decree are stately (meanings: grand in size, style etc.; formal or ceremonious). The central element of an "underground scenery" is Alph (associations: Alpha = first letter of the Greek alphabet; according to mythological speculations, the beginning of life and language, "Eden", was located in Abyssinia; Alpheus = the classical underground river; [cf KERMODE et al, VOL. II, p. 256; cf BACKGROUND], the sacred river. The Latin origin of the word sacred has two meanings: sacer = 'holy' or 'connected with a god of the underworld', i.e. 'cursed'; the surroundings of the river perhaps suit the second meaning best: at least a considerable stretch of the river runs underground, through caverns (caves etc.) of measureless, "superhuman" dimensions, i.e. of expanses which man (human skill or the powers of the human mind) is not able to "fathom" both in a literal and figurative sense. Its final destination is a place of extreme darkness and indefinite depth (down to a sunless sea).

(6-11) A vivid picture of the landscape is given in (6-11): twice five miles (10 miles; cf. background; circumference, diametre, square miles?) of ground are reserved for the "project". The area is girdled (surrounded, confined) by walls and towers (associations:baileys of a fortress, castle, walls around a park area etc., erected for protection, or to prevent escape, or for both purposes).
Natural conditions and the results of artificial shaping seem to coalesce to an ideal kind of environment: fertile ground provides an optimal basis for cultivation of various kinds, e.g. of a park-like area: here were gardens bright with sinuous rills (< lit., poet.> = meandering rivulets or streams); the appeal to the eye is matched by fragrancy dispersed by many an incense-bearing tree. Amidst [ancient] hills, shelter is offered by ancient forests (associations: a densely wooded area developed over a long period of time without human interference[cf the trees of paradise in the Holy Bible; cf COLLINS, p. 9]; large trees, thick growth) which encompass (enfold..) sunny spots, i.e clearings lighted and warmed by the sun (appeal to visual and tactile perception) which can serve as spaces for sport, play etc. A spectrum of colours can be associated with the words bright (intensity of light giving colours a shiny quality or a "warm" tone), blossomed (various colours; eternal spring?), sunny (s.a.) and greenery (foliage and plants of various tones of green, implicitly in contrast to the darker green of the surrounding trees).

(12-16) On one peculiar green hill (definite article: the) a chasm , i.e a deep crack, crevice etc. [cf the chasm in the Greek myth about Alpheus and the nymph; see background] runs downward through, or across, a thicket of cedar trees (slanted [/] down ...; athwart ... "< rare > = across, especially in a sloping direction" ;note multiple meaning and connotations of cover = thicket: roof, shelter etc., hiding place concealing something from sight). First, a climactically arranged sequence of adjectives casts a mysterious or sinister light on the place: the chasm is deep (enhancing the meaning of the word chasm proper; s.a.) , romantic (associations: connected with beautiful, and wild, landscape, adventure, danger, mystery, love etc.; cf. following words) and savage (naturally wild, untamed, i.e. hard to keep in check etc.). The last two adjectives used in this section, holy and enchanted, explicitly hint at mystical aspects (connection with religious or magic powers; s.a. sacred). Secondly, the comparison (as ... as), or association, of the place with a haunted place, in this case with a place visited frequently by a woman, or a woman's spirit, "qualifies" it as a cursed place and makes it an ideal setting for a scene of "forbidden longing or mourning" (wailing), and forbidden love between humans and demonic powers (the woman + demon-lover; the woman's contact with the evil as the source of disaster?; cf. Eve and the serpent). Classically, such a scene is set beneath a waning moon (atmosphere!).

(17-24) With the help of illustrative comparisons, a graphic description of an eruption is given. And from this chasm ... A mighty fountain [is] forced, i.e. driven out of the ground by geological or supernatural forces, momently, i.e. at that moment, or at intervals. The gigantic and powerful ejection of water or, what seems as much plausible within the whole set of images, the eruption of magma, is seething with ceaseless, i.e. endless, turmoil, displaying the visual and auditory properties of a liquid reaching its boiling point (cf. the surface movement and noise of boiling-hot liquid). Perhaps, Alph is the source of this eruption (s.b.). A complex simile illustrates the phenomenon: this earth shows traits of a suffering human or god(dess), breathing ... in fast thick pants, i.e. fighting for breath etc., and, finally, bringing up the cause of the trouble (cf. phlegm; in supernatural terms: the evil). The magma etc. breaks forth with very great speed, at short intervals, or continuously, with increasing and decreasing intensity (swift half-intermitted burst); among this matter huge fragments, i.e. enormous boulders of rock, or lumps of magma, are hurled into the air (vault = "jump"; connotation: the trajectories of the falling fragments arch like a vault).

Comparisons with familiar phenomena serve to create a graphic picture in the reader's mind: The rocks are likened to rebounding hail, the grains of which hit the ground, bounce off, and fall again; Chaffy grain (the grains of wheat etc., and the chaff, i.e. the outer seed covers) behaves in a similar way when, in order to separate the chaff from the usable grain, wheat etc. is beaten beneath the thresher's flail, a stick with a club attached to it formerly used for this purpose. [I have considered the adjective chaffy to have been derived from chaff = husks etc.; possible connotation: another meaning of chaff (n.,v.) is connected with friendly, playful joking; cf. the light movement of the grains etc. and see dancing in the subsequent line.]

Momently (s.a.), the sacred river throws itself up violently (flung up) amidst these dancing rocks. Its eruption takes place at once, i.e. either simultaneously, or suddenly; the first meaning would rather suggest that Alph is identical with the fountain (s.a.), assuming a new form and quality as early as in (17ff.), and is continuing to erupt; the second meaning would imply that this eruption is additional to that of the fountain, and that Alph does not begin to mingle with it until this point (cf. back- ground).

(25-28) Five miles (s.a.) meandering with a mazy motion (running in bends, changing its direction as if moving through a labyrinth) Through wood and dale (< poet.> = valley) the river runs to the caverns (s.a.) and falls noisily (sank ...) to a lifeless ocean (s.a. a sunless sea).

(29-30) Natural disaster is bound to be accompanied by man-made destruction: [A]'mid this tumult, Kubla perceives Ancestral voices, i.e. the voices of (wise) forefathers, or those of religious prophets etc. They come from far (figurative meaning: from heaven etc.), announcing the event of war, which implies the destruction of the pleasure-dome etc. and loss of human life.

(31-34) A final view shows a particular section of the river. Imagining the scene one finds oneself on the "dark" side of the pleasure-dome which casts its shadow (connotations: darkness, evil etc.) on the surface of the flowing lava and/or water where it is reflected and appears to be moving on the flow: The shadow of the dome ... [/] floated midway on the waves. In this way the material manifestation of too great human ambition or aspiration (cf. the protagonist's "hybris" in drama) as the potential source of catastrophe, is associated with the disaster. Auditory impressions blend with the visual ones: at the same location, the mingled measure (mixed acoustic quality, effect) of the noises originating from the fountain and the caves is audible.

(35-36) Repeating the contrasting images of the sunny pleasure-dome (connotations: warmth, brightness etc.) and the caves of ice (= caverns, s.a.; connotations: cold, darkness etc.) the speaker gives his evaluation of the phenomenon depicted in the preceding lines; he terms it as a miracle, i.e. an unexpected event of a super- natural kind, and, at the same time, as based upon a very peculiar kind of design or plan (of rare device).

(37-41) The speaker recalls a vision, i.e. () a beautiful sight and/or a dreamlike experience, which, however, is not restricted to visual impressions: a damsel, i.e. < lit.> "a young unmarried woman, esp[ecially] one of noble birth", or maid = young woman), from Abyssinia (location of "Eden", s.a.), sings of Mount Abora (associations: high place, mountain of the Gods etc.; "Mount Amara", the place where "Abassin", i.e. Abyssinian princes were reared cf MILTON's Paradise Lost, IV, 280ff.: .. where Abassin kings their issue guard, [/] Mount Amara, ...[/] True Paradise, under the Ethiop line...; quoted after KERMODE et al. VOL. I, p. 1299; cf. KERMODE et al., VOL. II, p. 256f.]). She accompanies herself on a dulcimer, i.e. a zither.

(42-43) Deeply impressed, the speaker voices a complex wish, the first part of which explicitly refers to the vision itself which he would like to reproduce and re-experience in his mind; Could I revive (bring back to life, i.e. cause to give inspiration) within me [/] Her symphony (harmony of voice and instrument) and song (voice, lyrics)...

(44-47) The imagination of this scene would give him, or gain him, very intensive, profound pleasure: To such a deep delight [i]t would win me ... The speaker is not only conscious of the emotional impact of the vision (the delight) but also of the potential inspirational powers connected with this delight: as an "imaginative potential" it is the essential prerequisite to the fulfilment of another part of his wish (s.a.) - his own building or designing of a paradise-like place: in contrast to Kubla's palace etc. and particular features of the landscape of Xanadu, that (sunny) dome and those caves of ice would be built in air, i.e. be founded on an immaterial basis (associations: "lofty" sky or heaven as opposed to "low" earth, the light versus the heavy element, over-all brightness versus (partial) darkness; the poetic genius' immaterial, indestructible paradise versus the commanding genius' doomed paradise of material gigantomania, etc.).

The process of "building" this paradise-like place would, according to the speaker's imagination, be accompanied by music (cf. the nature and quality of the damsel's music; s.a.; celestial music, harmony of the spheres) loud and long, i.e. of a great intensity and extensive (eternal?) duration.

(48-54) The speaker's imagination leaves this place open to all who heard, i.e. everybody who has been able or willing to perceive the music (s.a.) or the poem; he wishes (should...; s.a. wish ) or invites them to use their own imagination and see them[selves] there. The reaction he expects of them (... all should cry, Beware! ...), cries of warning, fear, awe etc., is directed towards the dominating figure of the last part of the poem (50ff.).

In addition to this reaction, the speaker demands of the reader or listener to perform acts of great reverence or awe etc. towards this figure: the first act, which reminds of symbolic gestures performed during a religious or magic conjuration or incantation, is to Weave a circle round him thrice (Weave a circle; here: to describe a circle by symbolic gestures; association: cf. the movement of weaving textile fibres into more or less solid strands; thrice < lit.> = three times). The second act is to close your eyes (s.b. flashing eyes) with holy dread, i.e. with awe towards a superhuman being. The figure represented by the words his and he is characterised by flashing eyes which might have a blinding effect on humans (s.a.), floating hair, i.e. hair moving in the wind or storm (cf. pictorial representations of ancient gods), and finally, by the assumption that He on honey-dew [has] fed [/] And drunk the milk of Paradise, i.e. has been entitled to share the privileges of gods (cf. the ancient gods' consuming ambrosia and nectar).

In contrast to Kubla, the "commanding genius" (s.a.), he appears to be the legitimate, "absolute genius" in command of "Paradise regained", i.e. a god or a figure entitled to the rights of a god (s.a.), God the Almighty, etc. The figure could theoretically be identical with the speaker of the poem (cf. 38ff.) who, inspired by the muses (the damsel), would have attained the status of a "poetic genius" in command of a paradise of imagination, i.e. the realm of the poet's inspiration [In this context, KERMODE points to PLATO who compared "a poet's inspiration to the Dionysiac women who receive honey and milk from the rivers of a Muses' paradise." ; PLATO, Ion 534 a-b, quoted after KERMODE et al., VOL II, p. 257; Dionysus was the "god of wine and inspiration"; GRIMAL, p. 128. ;in this case, the last four lines would rather be uttered by all in (48f.) than by the speaker himself (the punctuation would not, however, correspond to their crying, which is elsewhere marked by exclamation marks; cf. Beware! Beware!).


An analysis of contrastive elements could refer to complex images (ideas) and single words (considering different word-classes). Elements can be contrasted within a section (cf. structure) or across sections of the poem.

Suggestions: Contrast positive and negative aspects within (1-11): landscape: pleasure dome, gardens bright, sinuous rills, blossomed, many an incense-bearing tree, sunny spots, greenery (brightness etc.) versus Alph, the sacred river, caverns, sunless sea (darkness etc.); stately versus sacred (earthly vs. unearthly powers);

Further suggestions: Contrast the pleasant side of the earthly paradise (beauty s.a., safety: walls and towers; 6-11) to its demonic side (features of landscape, atmosphere); relevant words in (12-16): deep, romantic, chasm, cover, savage, holy and enchanted, beneath a waning moon, haunted, demon-lover. Contrast elements of (6-11) with elements in (17-30): tranquillity etc. versus ceaseless turmoil, pants, mighty fountain, was forced, burst, vaulted, rebounding hail, thresher's flail, dancing rocks, flung up, tumult, voices pro phesying war. Contrast aspects of the earthly paradise ("characters": Kubla, woman, demon-lover, landscape etc.) to aspects in (37-54): damsel with a dulcimer, Abyssinian maid, singing, Mount Abora, symphony and song, delight, music loud and long, dome in air, his flashing eyes, floating hair, holy dread, honey-dew, milk of Paradise.


In (1-36) especially elements of the landscape recur at various points, creating some "unity of space", helping the reader to imagine the scenery and the course of events: pleasure-dome, dome of pleasure (2, 31, 36), the sacred river [ran] (3, 24, 26, as waves in 32); caverns measureless to man (4, 27), also represented by caves (34, 36); dome and caves are repeated in (46, 47), in a different context, and with different implications. The adjective sunny characterises spots, pleasure-dome and dome (11,36, 47). The notion of a sunless sea (5) is repeated by lifeless ocean (28); the repetition of momently seems to create a subtle link between the fountain and the river (19, 24). Other repetitions of landscape elements are five miles (6, 25), chasm (12, 17) and fountain (19, 34).

Repeated references are made to the characters dominating respective sections of the poem: Kubla (title, thus of at least "background relevance" for the whole poem; mentioned, too, in (1, 29)); the figure of the damsel with a dulcimer (repeated as maid, her, she, her (37ff.)); the first-person speaker imagining his paradise: I, me (38, 42, 44, 46); the god-like figure his, him, he (50, 51, 53). A repeated emotional appeal is made by the adjective holy, which is associated with a fearsome place and fear as a human reaction; the fear etc. potentially evoked by the chasm should, however, be different from the holy dread in (52). The intensity of the expected awe in (49ff.) is underlined by a repetition of the word Beware! (49).

Sensory perception is explicitly referred to by heard (29, 33, 48) and saw, see (38, 48). [T]umult as an essential acoustic feature of the catastrophe is repeated in (28) and (29). A repetition of dulcimer helps to imagine a "continuum" of musical accompaniment forming a background to (37-41). The position or direction of visual elements is repeatedly determined by prepositions like [A]mid (20, 23, 29), Through (4, 26), Down (5, 13), from (17, 34). Very frequently, the conjunction And occurs in initial position, introducing the next step in the course of events; it also introduces contrasting or additional aspects (8, 10). Note the parallelisms providing a kind of firm framework within the "fireworks" of imaginative details: And + preposition + noun group (17, 23, 29, 40), And all (48, 49), And + imperative (52, 54), And here were (8,10).


Like other proper nouns, Paradise is capitalised; as the last word of the text it is very conspicuous and receives great stress.


Full stops or exclamation marks (16, 30, 36, 50) conclude the stanzas and separate logical subsections from each other. In this way, for instance, the descriptive and evaluative part of (31-36) are isolated from each other. Note, as an opposite example, e.g. the logical link between (28) and (29) established by the repetition of the word tumult; accordingly, at this point no full stop but a colon is used. The use of commas instead of exclamation marks which are used elsewhere to underline emotions and imperatives (12ff.; 49-50) maintains the unity of the last four lines (speaker's voice) and separates them from the lines before. Exclamation marks emphasise expressions of emotional involvement or situations implying an emotional reaction: (12-16) unease, fear, suspense, thrill, premonition etc.; (30) warning, premonition, threat etc.; (36) amazement, wonder, awe etc.; (47) amazement, enthusiasm etc.; (49-50) awe, fear, warning, premonition, amazement etc. (cf. syntax).

syntax etc

Most of the text resembles (emphatic) narrative prose - long sentence patterns (main clauses + subordinate clauses etc., mostly separated by commas, semicolons, or colons) correspond to fluent, complex trains of thought. In (12-16) exclamations form "incomplete" sentence structure (emotional involvement, exclamations; cf. punctuation); at other points, exclamations form (part of) a complete sentence (29- 30, subject complement in 35-36, object complement in 46-47, direct object in 49-50).


The "fragment" is set in four typographical units; the layout of the first and the last of these "stanzas" suggests further sub-divisions (cf. structure, subdivisions below).


(1-5): iambic tetrametre in (1-4); in (5) the river reaches destination and comes to a "halt"; corresponding change to three feet (anapaest + trochees, catalectic ending; less plausible, with stress on to: three iambs). (6-11): iambic tetrametre in first couplet (logical entity, cf. sound, end-rhyme) versus iambic pentametre in the subsequent lines (greenery in (11) could also be scanned as a dactyl). (12-16): pentametre, with the exception of (13); possible scansions: a light syllable followed by 4 trochees, or 4 iambs followed by an "extra-light syllable" giving the line a "feminine ending" 84 (- '- '- '- '- or -' -' -' -' - ) [cf ABRAMS, p. 96]; (13) deviates from this pattern, the second syllable, i.e. the word the, bearing no stress (cf. disharmony of contents; cf. sound).

(17-24): (17-18) have the same metrical structure as the preceding lines; a logical link between these parts exists because of the repeated reference to the image of the chasm. (19-22): A variation of the 5-footed pattern to masculine endings (with 5 standard iambs) constitutes a metrical unit which corresponds to the imagery (the erupting fountain, illustrating examples); Along with a change of subject (new aspect: river), (23-24) return to the pattern of (17ff.).

(25-30): These lines alternate between feminine and masculine endings. After an "introductory sentence", (26-27) describe the "middle section" of the river (masculine endings), which reaches its destination in (28);

(29-30): masculine endings conclude the lines referring to the war prophecy (couplet; cf. sound)

(31-34): tetrametre with 7 to 8 syllables; (35-36) the speaker's evaluation (miracle) is given within a pentametrical pattern, with 10 syllables per line (couplet; cf. sound).

(37-43): Most of the lines have "only" 3 feet, which, at least at points (s.b.), might lead to a decrease in reading tempo in connection with the very dreamlike and harmonic subject (wishes centred around the pleasant vision of the damsel); a certain degree of tension is built up in (43), where within the trimetrical pattern the number of syllables is reduced to 6;

(44-54): The last part starts with a 9-syllabic line and maintains a tetra- metrical pattern throughout; (46) the accent on the first syllable (I) is meaningful (stressing the speaker's initiative); (51) the variation at the beginning of the line corresponds to a change of subject (voice of all in (50) - voice of the speaker: beginning of final instruction and observations); Paradise could receive a (weak) stress on the last syllable (as a rhyme of eyes in (52) and a near-rhyme of thrice), or be scanned '-- , which would give the word special weight as an individual and relevant item in final position.


Unity and harmony within (sub)sections of the text are created by the repetition of single sounds (alliteration/ consonance and assonance) and groups of sounds (words, groups of words; as anaphoras etc.; end-rhyme s.b.); e.g. in (1-11) of the first stanza the following examples can be found: /k/, /u/ in (1), /d/ in (2), /r/ in (3), /m/ in (4), open /a/-sound in (3-4), /s/ in (5), /f/, /ai/ in (6), /w/-sound in (7), /au/ in (6-7), /z,s/, /i/ in (8), /b/, /m/, /i/ in (9), anaphora And here were (8, 10), /i/, /s/ in (11), etc.
(12- 15), for example, lack such a degree of phonetic harmony, which corresponds with the feeling of unease evoked at this point.

Various end-rhyme patterns help to distinguish logical units within SECTIONS I-IV:

I (1-5) ABA1A1B (introduction) + (6-11) CC -DBDB (surrounding walls etc. - gardens etc.; B seems to connect both subsections)

II (12-16) ABAA1B (spot of mystery) + (17-24) CC-DD1-EE-FF1 (eruption; the couplets each focus a distinguishable aspect) + (25-30) GHHG- JJ1 (flow of lava etc. - prophecy)

III (31-36) ABAB- CC (mirrored images - evaluation)

IV (37-41) A-BCCB1 (heavenly maid with a zither) + (42-45) DEDE (lingering impression and desired emotional state as preconditions of the final vision; instead of the rhyme pattern enjambment links these lines to the last 9 lines) + (46-54) FG-FFF-GHHG1 (the speaker's initiative - reaction of all - the speaker's final "instruction" and observations); note the rhyme Paradise - eyes (50, 52).


I (1-5) mysterious, (6-11) peaceful, pleasant
II (12-16) mysterious, sinister, (17-28) agitated
III (31-36) agitated
IV (37-48) very dreamlike, peaceful, delightful, (49-50) awe-inspiring, fearsome (51-54) awe-inspiring and pleasant

"point of view"

(1-36) The voice of the poem observes and reports events in a relatively detached manner, although, at points, some concern might be felt (especially in 11f.: But Oh!...); at other points it is eager to exemplify phenomena for the benefit of the reader (e.g. in 18); in spite of alluding to the sinister etc. nature of some phenomena (12ff., 35), it does not seem to claim omniscience or to be directly involved. (37-54) A first-person speaker comes into the foreground and reports a very personal experience and addresses the reader directly, claiming ultimate knowledge about the dominating figure of the last part of the poem (50ff.).


- Give your vision of an artificial Paradise of today ("pleasure-domes" etc).
- A paradise of imagination - the poet's privilege.
- The poet's creating Paradise - an act of blasphemy?
- Overlooking the dangers? - dreams of human infallibility in re-designing the world
(ambitious technological, political etc.projects; interference with nature, etc.).
- Psychological aspects: memory and vision under the influence of drugs
- Use of drugs in favour of the artist's productivity (examples, justification) ?
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