Sensibility and Nature in Kubla Khan

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, the repetition and consistency of certain literary devices work to elucidate a sensual expression of the sublime, and the emotional and physical connection of nature to man. Incorporating devices such as alliteration and assonance, Coleridge utilizes these elements as a way to illustrate the sensual and pleasurable world of Xanadu. For instance, assonance is present in almost half of the entire poem, remaining consistent until what is around halfway through the second stanza. Most notably though, is its presence in the first stanza, as it is present in terms such as “Xanadu”(1), “Kubla Khan”(2), “Alph”(3), “ran”(3), “caverns”(4). In the repetition of these vowel sounds, the poem gives off an “ooh” and “ahh” sound, creating a sensual experience for the reader in interpreting this depiction of Xanadu.

I found it interesting though, how this repetition of vowel sounds seemingly coincides with alliteration found in the poem, such as “river”(3) and “ran”(3), “measureless”(4) and “man”(4), “sunless”(5) and “sea”(5) and so on. Serving as what is almost a juxtaposition to the repetition of vowel sounds, the repetition of consonants could seemingly represent the natural world of Xanadu in relation to the more sensual and human aspects illuminated through the assonance. In the world of Xanadu, where human pleasure seems to coincide with the natural world, the alliteration present in the poem works to elucidate the beauty of the natural world by incorporating smooth diction in describing the “river” and “sea”.

Another interesting takeaway I received from the poem is that within the sensual tone illuminated by these two literary devices, the metaphorical language in Kubla Khan evokes a sensual, and even sexual tone to the poem. Aside from the numerous mentions of the concept of “pleasure”, as found in the narrator’s idea of the “pleasure-dome”(2), other instances of metaphorical language evoking a sexual tone include the use of terms such as “deep romantic chasm”(12), “fertile ground”(6), “fast thick pants”(18), and “burst”(20).

3 thoughts on “Sensibility and Nature in Kubla Khan”

  1. Within your post, I was especially interested in your last paragraph about the sexual personification of the natural setting. Not only is the language sexual, but it is feminine and sexual. This sexual diction, as used in his description of the “romantic chasm” and its “fertile ground”, seems to have feminine connotations related to the appearance and functionality of female genitalia. These feminine connotations might just align with the common practice of considering nature/Earth as a female figure, but I also wonder if it speaks to gender dynamics or the hyper sexualization of women in any way.

  2. To build off your points about assonance and alliteration, I think these rhetorical devices enhance the storytelling aspect of the poem. At its most basic level, this poem is simply a tale being told by its narrator about a far-away place. The use of assonance and alliteration creates a lyrical and intriguing rhythm that draws the reader into the story and works to convey the mystery of the place being described. The sounds created by these rhetorical devices mimic the tone the tale would be spoken in if it was told out loud rather than written.

  3. There’s a lot of really interesting points you make in your post! I agree with you, certain vowel sounds and the use of alliteration do make for an interesting sound, and I believe something that also contributes to this is the use of iambic tetrameter and the specific rhyme scheme. I found your last paragraph to be very interesting, and I highly encourage you to check out one of the other Kubla Khan posts that mentions this, but couldn’t the sexual nature of the description of the land be attributed to a colonization lens as well?

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