There's some strange stuff going on with time in "Kubla Khan." When exactly does this poem take place? The Kubla Khan who actually lived belongs to the past, but is Coleridge recalling the Kubla Khan of the past, or someone who transcends our linear notion of time? If you are having a vision, are you looking backward or forward? Are you outside time? Whether or not these questions have answers, it's evident that different understandings of time is a major theme of the poem.
Questions About Time
- Where in time are we in this vision? Are we in the past with the ancient Mongols? Are we in the present with Coleridge? Are we reading a prophecy of the future? Is it some combination of all of these things?
- Do you think all the characters here exist at the same time? Is this poem like a film, where one thing happens one after another, or more like a painting, where everything exists at once?
- In lines 37-38 the speaker says: "A damsel with a dulcimer/ In a vision once I saw." When was this? Why not make this a part of the same dream? Is this seem interesting or confusing?
- Why do we keep coming back to the caves? Does that make it feel like time is passing, or like it's standing still?
Chew on This
In "Kubla Khan" Coleridge moves backward and forward in time, making it impossible to tell exactly when any one event takes place. He does this in order to recreate the feeling of a dream, where time doesn't have a fixed meaning.