Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s opening explanatory paragraphs to Kubla Khan inform the poem in several different ways. The most obvious way is explaining the circumstances under which the poem was written. The further function arises in Coleridge’s explanation that the “lines that are here preserved”(460) are just a 54-line fragment of the dream that could have been up to 300 lines. As a reader, this gives me a sense of Coleridge teasing me, saying ‘here’s just a taste, and you will never have the rest.’ The poem as a whole leaves one with a sense of awe and a myriad of unanswered questions, which is an expected part of the poetic reading experience; yet Coleridge’s assertion that there’s a huge section of the poem that we will never get to see frustrates that sense of wonder with an inclination that further explanation does exist, forever beyond our reach.
This idea of an incomplete wondrous work is exhibited again in the fourth stanza of the poem. Coleridge describes a woman singing, claiming that if he could remember her song he could poetically rebuild the pleasure-dome(37-47). The poet has this amazing dream or vision, and he gives the reader just enough to make the reader despair that the poet has lost the rest. If the poem just described the parts of the vision that does remain in Coleridge’s memory, it would still transmit the charge of the sublime, but it is this notion that there is much more to this dream that has been lost that contributes to the poem’s uniqueness.
The conclusion of the poem tells the reader what he or she would experience were Coleridge to be able to recall the whole vision:
“And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.”(49-54)
In my analysis, this stanza is telling the reader that if only we had the whole poem, we would see Coleridge as a madly inspired poet who has seen Heaven and lived to tell about it, and therefore should be regarded with a certain awe. Coleridge would give us a feeling so powerful that we would have to close our eyes in fear.
The introductory paragraphs and the poem itself combine to give a sense of wanting more after the poem is over. If not for this idea of an incomplete poem to which the completing elements exist and have been lost, then a reader might feel satisfied with this piece. Instead Coleridge has managed to conjure an idea of a teasing sublime, he has given us just enough to want much more, and despair at the inability of that desire to be satisfied.
Lynch, Deidre, and Stillinger, Jack. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print. P 459-462