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Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Kubla Khan, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 773

Essay

The turn of the 19th century in Great Britain, and indeed the world, was a time of great social upheaval due to the start of The Industrial Revolution. In addition, the transcendental movement, better known as Romanticism in England was at its peak. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron (George Gordon), and William Wordsworth dominated England’s large literary scene.

The Romantic Movement was a trend in society, art, and literature that had a few very necessary components. These pre-psychedelic texts concentrated very heavily on beauty, nature, rigid verse, and often an embodied, or even centralized character that the author could relate with; Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is the quintessential example in both style and history of not only the time period in which it was written, but other literary trends as well.

Samuel Coleridge was heavily influenced on the other “Lakes District” poets that monopolized British literature and poetry at the turn of the 19th century. Originally befriending contemporary Robert Southey, they placed their visionary minds together, and fresh off the spirit of The French Revolution, constructed their own Utopian society (. Eventually, this idea was dismissed just as such, however, it certainly set the foundation of Coleridge’s mind frame leading to Kubla Khan (UPenn, np).

The next relationship Coleridge fostered with a brilliant contemporary, and future Poet Laureate of England, William Wordsworth. Together they compiled what is considered one of the texts that revolutionized poetry, and defined Romantic poetry as a whole; named Lyrical Ballads, it opened with what is perhaps Coleridge’s most famous work “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (UPenn, np).

Though their intimate relationship dwindled, and eventually became nonexistent, Wordsworth’s influence on Coleridge’s thought is apparent in subsequent works. Wordsworth added a certain rigidity in form and rhyme that was less prevalent in Coleridge’s earlier works. In addition, it truly after Lyrical Ballads that Coleridge blossomed into the master of imagery and metaphor so apparent in Kubla Khan.

It is also necessary to note Coleridge’s long-term addiction issues. While the Romantic poets, with specific reference to the inflated ego of Lord Byron, had a history of evoking mind-altering substances and using them for “inspiration”, this was not recreational use of opium or the like to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Though it is a well-established fact that Coleridge suffered from physical ailments, he battled an addiction to laudanum, which was opium dissolved in an alcohol suspension and marketed as a multi-faceted medicine. His abuse of the “medication” often left him more ill than he otherwise would have been.

Emotion was one thing all of the Romantics embraced, and Kubla Khan evokes plenty with regards to Coleridge. In the poem, Coleridge describes a concrete paradise existing on a plane that evokes images of Earth. Their ruler, “Kubla Khan”, as well as the entire society as a whole prove to be completely unable to resist evil temptations (Schroeder, 2009). This is a metaphor that was very relatable, due to the memories of Genesis and the Garden of Eden it evokes. In addition, it is absolutely representative of both the author himself, and the social implications and changes going on due to the factory system.

It is easy to look at Coleridge’s struggle with drugs and addiction and relate it to the “temptations” offered to the “doomed” civilization described in the poem. Because it is the evil temptations that eventually result in the annihilation of the beautiful paradise, this could very easily have been representative of how Coleridge viewed his addiction as his own person doom. It certainly embodies the emotion of the Romantics.

The factory system, and Industrialization had also been brought into full swing by the time this poem was published right before 1820. This was the defining time before the otherworldly emotions of the Romantics fell out of favor for “realist” poets, such as Lord Tennyson. London was overcrowded, and factory conditions were appalling. It is very likely that Kubla Khan, in again evoking Biblical references, saw the decline of society that went along with overcrowding.

Instead of an “Eden-based” comparison, there is also a direct correlation between the poem and the story of Noah. It was very characteristic of the Romantics to use Biblical reference, as well as Greek and Roman ones, so comparing the immoral civilization in Kubla Khan to the way God viewed the Earth before the story of Noah is directly applicable. As in the poem, an immoral society was destroyed for a true “paradise”, historically synonymous with Heaven.

The poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is reflective of the ideals of the time period in which it was written, the style, as well as the historical background to truly embody the emotion of a quintessential Romantic poem.

Resources

http://www.englishromantics.com/kublakhan/analysis.htm

http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Coleridg/bio.html

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