Samuel Coleridge's Kubla Khan and Materialism
Uploaded by Shirobot on Apr 20, 2005
Samuel T. Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is a poem of two opposing ideas: materialism and imagination. In the poem, Coleridge presents imagination and emotion as the means to achieving pure pleasure and creating paradise. He does this by depicting two separate creations of a pleasure dome. One, made by Kubla Khan (a Chinese emperor in the 13th century), was founded on materialistic greed and was created in physical reality, infecting an already present paradise in nature. This now contaminated paradise is doomed to be destroyed. A first-person narrator in the rest of the poem discusses being able to create this pleasure dome in his mind, thus achieving the experience of pure pleasure. In addition to the basic portrayals of materialism and imagination, Coleridge associates religious views, specifically those of paganism and Christianity, with each one. The pagan emphasis on nature and the abstract ties in with the ideals and, in the words of John McKay, “emotional exuberance [and] unretrsained imagination” (766) of the romantic period. Christianity’s great desire to continuously spread, as well as its comparatively ungrateful attitude toward nature and its superstitious rejection of most forms of pleasure as negative and evil, fits in with Kubla Khan’s materialistic pleasure dome as well as the presumed attitude toward the narrator’s creation. Coleridge communicates all of this in Kubla Khan with allusions, imagery, recurring ideas (both in repetition and of actual ideas), and excellent and elaborate diction throughout. All of these (particularly the imagery and the repetition) are characteristic of romantic poetry, so not only do Coleridge’s beliefs fall in line with the many of the ideals of romanticism, his techniques reflect those used by other romantic poets.
Kubla Khan, the source of the title of the poem as well as the creator of the first pleasure dome, is representative of all those who desire control over territory and land. The real Khan was an emperor focused on territorial gain. He conquered several other dynasties in China and made attempts to conquer Japan, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Indonesia. It is of note that when Kubla Khan was written, Napoleon had recently come into power in France. His land-hungry crusades throughout Europe could have inspired Coleridge to use a historical leader (specifically Khan) as his figure of materialistic greed. Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome is a futile attempt by mankind to capture and physically create the epitome of pleasure in...