That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air
That sunny dome, those caves of ice
And all who heard should see them there
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 honeydew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
The poet says that inspired by such an enchanting music, one can build a grand castle in air. Anyone with fertile imagination can create a grand castle for him.
The emperor has been fed on honeydew and milk of Paradise. This depicts the royal lineage and upbringing of the king. He has been conditioned to live a royal life, and he has also been conditioned to counter any challenge which often comes in a king’s life. So, the king is ready for the war which was forecast by his ancestors. His readiness is depicted by his flashing eyes and his floating hairs which are wrapping his face.
Understanding the Poem
Question 1: Does the poem have a real geographical location? How does the poet mix up the real and the imaginary to give sense of the surreal?
Answer: River Alph is somewhere in Antarctica and the name was coined in the early twentieth century. The poet, however, belongs to the eighteenth century. So, we can safely assume that nobody knew about this river or about Antarctica during those days.
During the times of the poet, river Alph could at best be an imaginary river. It was a sacred river which may have connotations with the mythology. The poet has beautifully mixed up the real and imaginary to give sense of the surreal. In nature, rivers flow over the ground, but in poet’s imagination this river flowing through caves, i.e. under the ground. Poet has also explained the sunlit dome with icy interior which is not possible in the real world. The poet also talks about some other surreal things, like demons, magic, witches, etc.
Question 2: Pick out
(a) Contrasting images that are juxtaposed throughout the poem.
Answer: There are many contrasting images juxtaposed throughout the poem. Some examples are: sunlit dome with icy cold interiors, a river full of motion and lifeless ocean, pleasures of the palace and vagaries of war, etc.
(b) Images that strike the eye and images that strike the ear, both positive and negative.
Answer: Images that strike the eye: sunlit forest, meandering river, hills, motionless ocean, etc.
Images that strike the ear: Thundering fountain, stones falling like hail, music,
(c) The words used to describe the movement of water.
Answer: The sacred river meandered through a maze of channels through the forest and the valley. After that the river reached the caves which are too deep and long to be conceived by human imagination. Then the river sank in the lifeless ocean with a roar. Here, the poet has beautifully juxtaposed two contrasting traits, i.e. of thundering noise when a river falls in ocean and the calm ocean.
Question 3: What is the discordant note heard at the end of the third stanza? Can we relate this to the grandeur and turmoil that are a part of an emperor’s life?
Answer: According to the poem, Kubla Khan is fed on honeydew and milk of paradise. This portrays the privileged upbringing of Kubla Khan and intrinsic powers he had due to his privileged upbringing. As a future king, he also got proper mental conditioning in how to deal with conflicts and machinations which often happen inside and outside a king’s palace. His flashing eyes and his floating hair depict the king’s readiness to deal with any untoward situation. This is the discordant note which the question is talking about.
Grandeur and turmoil are definitely a part of an emperor’s life. An emperor is quite at home with all the luxuries which are bestowed on him by virtue of his royal lineage. But he also has to be always ready to with revolts, wars and coup.
Question 4: What are the lines that refer to magical elements?
Answer: Following lines refer to magical elements:
- A savage place, as holy and enchanted
- As ever beneath a waning moon was haunted
- By woman wailing for her demon-lover
Question 5: What is poetic ecstasy likened to?
Answer: A state of overwhelming emotions is called ecstasy. In this poem, the poet has used ecstasy in heavy doses. He has fused the real with the surreal with great aplomb. So, it can be said that this poetry is a great example of poetic ecstasy.
Question 6: The poem is a fragment. What do you think has made it a lasting literary piece?
Answer: It is mentioned in the introduction that this poem could not be completed. The story goes that once the poet was asleep under the influence of opium, and dreamt the sequence while he was asleep. He created this poem based on what he dreamt. Copious use of surrealism made this poem a lasting literary piece.