Comparison of the Supernatural in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and Christabel

Topics: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Supernatural, Poetry Pages: 10 (3528 words) Published: March 24, 2012
Coleridge’s achievement as a poet rests on a small number of poems which can be divided into two diverse groups:- the daemonic group which consists of the three poems The Ancient Mariner, Christabel, and Kubla Khan and the conversational group which includes the poems like The Eolian Harp, Frost At Midnight, the irregular ode Dejection and To William Wordsworth. The later poems Limbo and Ne Plus Ultra mark a kind of return to the daemonic mode. The poems of the daemonic group bring out Coleridge’s preoccupation with the imaginative, the occult and the supernatural. Though pre-eminently a poet of the supernatural, Coleridge differs from the school of Gothic Romance in his treatment of the supernatural. Gothic writers like Horace Walpole, William Beckford, Ann Radcliffe and Mathew Gregory Lewis used sensational and supernatural occurrences with an aim to evoke chilling terror by exploiting mystery and a variety of horrors. Coleridge also makes use of supernatural agencies and situations but his treatment aims to make the ‘supernatural appear natural’. His focus was on how to make the supernatural elements acceptable and believable to the readers- in his own words, how to bring about “that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith.” This paper is an attempt to compare the supernatural aspect in two of his poems - Kubla Khan and Christabel.

To begin with, the supernatural in both the poems is introduced differently; in other words, Coleridge has used different techniques to ‘initiate’ the element of supernatural. This can be analyzed as follows: in Christabel, the opening lines immediately hint at the supernatural by the introduction of three things: midnight, owl and cock. These things are commonplace ideas which have strong associations with the paranormal and as a result a sense of apprehension and dread is generated in the minds of the reader right at the beginning. The opening lines of Kubla Khan on the other hand present images that are anything but commonplace. An entirely exotic ambiance is created through words such as Xanadu, Kubla Khan, Alph and so on. Thus, instead of fear and dread the mood created in the beginning is more of mystery and awe; it mystifies more than frightens because the ideas and images presented are not very familiar to the common reader. This unfamiliarity of backdrop is in fact a technique used by Coleridge in order to make the supernatural happenings seem authentic and believable. In both the poems we are taken to distant times and remote places. Christabel takes us to the middle ages with the Castles, moats, Knights, Bards and damsels in distress while Kubla Khan is laid in the Oriental city of Xanadu where the forests are “as ancients as the hills”. This remoteness of scene serves to make the supernatural as matter-of –fact and true mainly because we associate the middle ages with magic and witchcraft. So, an evil spirit’s entry in Sir Leoline’s castle or Kubla Khan’s hearing of ancestral voices prophesying war does not strike us as being fabricated or untrue. To put it simply, we do not argue, we do not doubt because we do not know. The description of the scenery and nature is to be analyzed next. In Kubla Khan, Xanadu is described as a place of great natural beauty and mystery through which the river Alph runs and in which Kubla Khan commands the building of a pleasure dome. The river is described as being ‘sacred’. The word sacred is derived from the latin word ‘sacer’ which means ‘holy’ or ‘sanctified’ but also means ‘connected with a god of the underground’. The latter meaning suits the river best if we consider the further description of the river’s path. A considerable stretch of the river runs underground, through caverns of measureless or supernatural proportions which man cannot hope to fathom both literally and figuratively. Its final destination is a place of extreme darkness and indefinite depth emphasized by “sunless sea”. This...
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