Appropriateness of the title of the poem ‘Kubla khan’ by S.T.Coleridge

The title of Coleridge’s poem is after the name of Kubla Khan, the famous Mongolian Emperor Kubla Khan, a great conqueror and ruler. This title signifies that the poem is about the feats or fortune of that mighty monarch. But this is not so.

The title of the poem seems to have been somewhat misleading. Kubla Khan, as already laid down, is a famous Mongol Emperor of China in the thirteenth century. According to “Purchase His Pilgrimage”, he commanded a pleasure palace with a garden to be built and the same, covering some ten miles, must be enclosed with strong towers and walls. Coleridge’s poem, however, seems to be concerned only with Kubla Khan’s command for building a stately pleasure-dome in his summer capital Xanadu. But there is nothing mentioned about his rule and his conquest in the poem. Of course, there is one implied suggestion to the doom of his power in the concluding lines of the first part of the poem-

“And’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war! “

Indeed, in Kubla Khan, Coleridge is not at all concerned with the political history or achievements of Kubla Khan. His attention is to the expression of a fanciful dream against the background of Kubla’s decree to build a stately pleasure-dome. Attempts, however, are made to draw symbolic significance from the dream vision of the poem by a good many poets. Interpretations are made to indicate that the poem speaks of the continuous flow of life, despite darkness and disruption to stand against it. There is also the interpretation of the poem, indicating the continuity of art amid the transience of the political order and the instability of human society. The concluding pictures of the Abyssinian maid and the sunny dome with the caves of ice are interpreted as vindicating the poetical triumph in a world of mutability.

But all these contentions or interpretations do not at all justify the title of the poem. The theme of the poem has no link with the great Mongol monarch or his time or reign. The poem has no single, compact theme. It has distinctly different matters. First, the poet is found to draw lively images about the source and the course of the meandering river Alph. Second, the poet presents a poet under the spell of poetic inspiration. None of these matters relates to Kubla Khan, his power and authority, his rise and fall. The title Kubla Khan does not at all seem appropriate to the theme of the poem.