I found that the Romantic Era really piqued my interest because of the supernatural elements involved. I found that I was able to use my historical brain more in this era than in the Restoration Era. Gothic imagery is very dark and gloomy, but it really stands out to me. I enjoy reading those types of poems/novels, especially when a historical element can be added because it opens up a new perspective and gives multiple meanings to the poem.
Kubla Khan was a poem that I found to be extremely interesting because I was able to really tap into my historical analysis and began analyzing the poem from a historical aspect. Although this is probably not the best way to analyze a poem for an English class, I naturally steered into this type of analysis. The first aspect of the poem that really stood out to me was how Samuel Taylor Coleridge was spelling “Kubla Khan.” Instinctively, I thought that this was because Coleridge has probably read novels about the exotic East but had never actually visited China. The British people always associated Asia with mystery, exoticism, wonder, and even darker gloomy traits such as murder, barbarianism, and war, traits of Gothicism. I believed that Coleridge was not intentionally spelling these words incorrectly but was spelling them the way they sounded. Kublai Khan does not appear to have an “I” at the end when you sound it out, but in reality, Kublai Khan was spelling his name with an “I”. I believe that this reflects the British ignorance of the far East at the time. They were so Eurocentric that they believed every other culture and country was backwards, when in fact, China was very well established at the time.
I initially believed that the floating palace was another symbol of his ignorance to the East. At this time, they still believed the East to be a place of mystery and exotic life. He very well could have believed that palaces actually floated due to the mystery associated with China. However, he was also in an opium dream and he very well could have just been hallucinating, but I thought it was interesting to look at another perspective as well. The Eurocentric attitude was something I did not want to rule out until the very end of the poem. The part that led me to believe that it was not ignorance associated with the floating palace was his admiration of the exotic lady. For a European to admire a non-European was unheard of for the time. They believed they were far superior to any other race, religion, and culture and it appears as though Coleridge is branching away from the social norms here.
The other part that stood out to me was when Kublai Khan was hearing his ancestor’s voices urging him to wage war. “ancestral voices prophesying war.” This reflected the Asian theory of dead ancestors always guiding the living, which consequently also reflects Gothicism in Europe because of the supernatural element involved. The Europeans believed that the dead were dead and went to heaven or hell. The Asians believed the ancestors would come back to guide them on the right path. Kublai Khan believed that his ancestors were telling him to wage war in order to expand the Mongolian Empire.
Nature played a significant role in the poem as well and he begins the poem by using dark and gloomy nature, but as the poem progresses, he begins to talk more about the beautiful scenery that surrounds the palace. “Caverns measureless to man/ Down to a sunless sea” paints a rather dark setting in the human mind. The transition occurs rather quickly because by line eight, Coleridge has transitioned to a much brighter setting. “And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills/ Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree.” The entire mood changes. Nature was a way for Coleridge to play with the mood of the poem. It starts off dark and gloomy, becomes bright, and finally transitions to a much more mysterious mood in the second stanza.
The poem “Kubla Khan” truly stood out to me as my favourite from this era and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it because of all the different meanings that could be extracted from it. If you read it from a historical perspective, you can see a very different meaning compared to reading it from an English perspective. I also found that the historical background on Kublai Khan was almost necessary in order to truly understand the poem from multiple perspectives.