Kubla Kahn, a poem by Samuel Coleridge, is one of his most famous works and is very popular in romantic poetry. Speculation says that Coleridge was reading a story about Kubla Kahn, grandson to Gengis Kahn, when he smoked some opium and fell asleep, and dreamt the poem. By the structure and language of the work it seems to suggest that Coleridge was completely sober and skillfully crafted the poem.
He dreams about Xanadu, Kahn’s summer palace under construction. Coleridge mixes some of his imagination in with the truth of what he was reading in the story about Kahn, creating a good story. How Coleridge crafts the story in the poem is one of the best ways to draw the audience in and make it believable.
He mixes something from reality, for example the building of the new palace, with embellishments from his imagination. He describes different parts of the palace which are never described in the book, and recognizes several senses that one would only get by being there in person, clearly from Coleridge’s imagination. These details make the poem almost seem real, because the audience’s imagination interprets them as real.
Authors often ask the question “What would happen if?” leaving plenty of room for imagination in their writing. For example in Peter Pan the author asked “What would happen if there was a magical place where you never grow up?”, and let his imagination do the rest. Coleridge’s style is to experience the story firsthand, in this case through reading a story and then dreaming it, then recording it and organizing it into a flowing work drawing from the event, memory, and from his imagination.
Even though this style makes for a great story, it makes it difficult to discern what truth is. “Truth depends on the use of language”, but it also depends on the content and its background or origin. Truth cannot only depend on the use of language because language is finite and continuously changing.
Coleridge uses the truth that Kubla Kahn existed and he had a summer home called Xanadu, because it was observed by the author of the book, but much of what Coleridge writes is born of his own imagination. He uses language to make the poem seem like truth but it is not completely truth because it is embellished with his imagination.
So how can readers discern the truth in what they read when so much of good writing is influenced by the imagination? Readers should look at the purest truth available to us, the Bible for the ultimate guide on the truth for secular and religious works. Historical and Fictional works should be examined through the content and origin of the story, what witnesses say, and find primary sources on the subject.
Some writing is completely imagination, which should never be taken as truth without close examination from the Bible and primary sources. The type of writing in Kubla Kahn should be understood and interpreted as fiction because there are no firsthand accounts of the details that Coleridge describes.