The interaction between man and nature is a major theme for Coleridge. It's painted all over "Kubla Khan," as we go from the dome to the river, and then from the gardens to the sea. Sometimes he's focused on human characters, sometimes on natural forces. In fact, it's difficult to get away from this theme in this poem. Think of this tension as a tug-of war between humans and their temporary constructions (buildings) and the seeming permanence of nature.
Questions About Man and the Natural World
- Have you ever been amazed and/or terrified by nature? Do you recognize that feeling in the descriptions of the River Alph?
- Do you have a sense that Coleridge is more drawn to the caverns and the river or to the pleasure dome?
- How do you feel about Kubla Khan as a character? Does he seem like a character in a book? Or like a ghost or an evil spirit? Does he belong to the world of men or to the natural world?
- Why do you think Coleridge created these different natural scenes? Why a river and a fountain and a cave and an ocean? Would just one of these have done the trick?
Chew on This
Coleridge describes many natural scenes in this short poem, and gives limited details about the human objects. Since he gives us only a sketchy picture of the man-made pleasure dome, he focuses our attention on the power and importance of the natural world.