Kubla Khan (A Vision in a dream - A fragment) was written by Coleridge in the autumn of 1797 in a farmhouse in Exmoor , England. The legend behind this poem is quite interesting. Coleridge , an inveterate opium eater developed this poem in one of his opium-induced dreams. On waking up , he began to furiously write down what he remembered of that dream. However , he was interrupted by a 'mysterious visitor' from Porlock who detained him for an hour. After that meeting , Coleridge was unable to recall the rest of his Vision , and thus , the poem remained a fragment. This person from Porlock can also be interpreted as a metaphor for all the obstacles/turning points a man faces in his life , which throws him off track and perhaps , changes the course of his dreams and actions.
The poem is based on Kublai Khan , the prominent Mongol ruler of the 13th century Yuan dynasty. It describes his summer capital at Xanadu , a surreal and enchanted place , besides the sacred river Alph and the Xanadu Hills , both based in Antartica.
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Upon the slimy sea. " (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)
Coleridge further describes that , despite the enchanting beauty of it all , the place is haunted by a woman wailing for her 'demon' lover. Or maybe it's enchanting because of the supernatural elements it posesses. 'Demon lover' suggests that the woman has been betrayed by the man she loved and thus she wails 'beneath a waning moon'. Her seething emotions bursts out in the form of a 'mighty fountain' whose intensity is described as follows :
"And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :"
This mighty river flows into the 'lifeless ocean' , creating an altogether tumultous scene. And amidst all this , Kubla Khan heard strange voices prophesying war.
Coleridge calls the whole series of events as a 'miracle of rare device' , a 'shadow of the dome of pleasure' :
"The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!"
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !"
Of travelers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands;
A voice so thrilling ne'er heard
In springtime from the cuckoo-bird,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
....Whate'er the theme, the maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending;
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore,
Long after it was heard no more."
(The Solitary Reaper , Wordsworth)
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise."