The Sexual Connotations In The Poem “Kubla Khan” By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Human beings are said to be the most gifted creations of God, because of their reason, their capability to learn and communicate instead of just memorizing or reproducing sounds. But despite all of these, humans are mainly governed by their needs and biological urges. These high priority needs such as food, water and sex are the ones to be able to control one’s mind and actions. The complexity of the human mind and the mystery of what can actually be the reason behind people’s actions and behaviour is what determined me to choose this as a theme for my critical essay.

Sigismund Freud is the one to give a deeper explanation concerning the issues stated previously in his ‘Theory of Psychoanalysis’. He pays a great attention to sexuality and says, as mentioned in Contemporary Critical Theories, that the success or failure in fulfilling these needs affect someone’s character and actions. Another subject of interest in his theory is the unconscious, a realm, a part of human’s mind where all the repressed traumas, needs, desires are kept. These things that are hidden in the unconscious also have a huge influence towards one’s character. In his theory he mentions important parts of the unconscious, named “Ego”, “Super Ego” and the “ID”. He develops each of the notions, especially the unconscious and also talks about dreams and each element of what a dream is consisted of.

In Freud’s point of view, human being are governed by sexual desires and instincts and some of them are so horrific that they are kept prisoners in the unconscious, unable to come to the surface since they will, most probably, drive us mad. “The unconscious contains instincts, impulses, and drives carried since birth and that never come to our conscience […] and traumatic experiences which are repressed.” Most of these thoughts are said to be so horrific and immoral that, may them successfully make it into the conscious, would make us see ourselves as monsters, as terrific humans, incapable of adapting to the moral values of our world. Here is where dreams come into discussion. Dreams, according to Freud, are a way for the unconscious to get rid of the pressure of these repressed thoughts. Dreams, though their different elements and processes such as dream thoughts, dream content and, the most important of them, the dream work, transforms the irrational and immortal sexual thoughts and desires into confusing, events inside a dream.

Further, Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis talk about the terms of “Ego”,and “ID”. I will mention for short the example through which it is easy to explain the terms and the relations between them. The Ego is, according to Freud, the “filter” through which the repressed emotions and thoughts from the unconscious are let out into the realm of the conscious. So, the ID is the elements of them unconscious world, the sexual needs, the primal and carnal instincts and thoughts of humans. The perfect way, by which we can explain more efficient the relation between these is the horse-and-its-rider analogy, where the ID is the horse and the Ego is the rider. The horse wants to do as it pleases, but the authority of the rider is the one that is guiding it on the right path. “The ego is pictured as the horse rider who receive his energy from the horse — the id, yet he still has to control it.” 

Considering Freud’s theory and notions I will further intend to demonstrate how Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” hides behind its natural and dream-like theme, the sexual, primal instincts and desires of human beings. In the following part of the essay, using as method of analysis the psychoanalytical one proposed by Sigismund Freud, the poem’s meaning will be searched deeper and proved to be a sexual one.

The first thing we notice about the poem is the title “Kubla Khan” which is thought to derive from the name of an ancient Mongolian emperor, Kublai Khan. What is well known about the emperors during that period of time is that they used to have many concubines and Kublai Khan was no exception. The main purpose for these concubines was mostly to satisfy the emperor’s sexual desire or needs. So, even starting from the title, it is noticed that satisfying the needs is a strong theme, existing in the poem.

“Sex is one of the physiological needs; the most basic biological needs in human life. Sex is very closely related to nature because of its biological qualities.” 

The poem’s surface main theme is set to be nature, due to the numerous natural elements composing it and “from the lines, it is obvious that the poem describes the beauty, glory, and the strength of the nature.” The world created in the poem is one of great wonder and strong oppositions, showing that the nature is beautiful in each of the both aspects. But, the sexual elements are just as related to nature and natural context, so this close relationship between nature and the sexual elements will be a good starting point for I will further try to demonstrate. As I previously mentioned, there are a lot of nature-related terms that compose the poem, for example I choose three of them, “pleasure-dome”, “caverns”, “river”. What I will try to do next, is to prove that these terms can also have a sexual meaning.

I will begin with the structure “pleasure-dome”. The dome symbolizes a circle, the round form considered to be the geometrical form representative for perfection. But we are going to keep in mind that the poem hides the theme of “sexual desires”. So the dome actually becomes a symbol of a breast which is the first organ that the baby comes in contact with the scope of having pleasure, by feeding. Considering that the dome is described to be a “pleasure” one, my idea that the dome is indeed a symbol for the gland on the chest of a woman, seems to be indeed true.

Further, the term “caverns”, which refers, naturally, to a big cave or a hole in the ground, can also be associated, in a psychoanalytic way of thinking, to the female genital organ. “‘Caverns’ are bigger than ‘caves’, but in this case it does not simply refer to physical size, it is more likely to be functional.” The female genitals are seen as a hugely important part of the human body since it has both the function of pleasure, but also are responsible for reproduction and giving birth. The term is also used in the structure “caverns measureless to men”, emphasizing that, due to its more numerous functions, the women’s genitals is a subject that sparked question and curiosity for men.

The last term, which explanation I am going to use as an argument towards proving my statement that “Kubla Khan” has a different message and theme than it is left to be seen, is “river”. I am going to start by mentioning that the name of the river is “Alph” which, after a few researches, seems to come from “Alpheus”, a river in Greece. The name of the river is surrounded by an ancient myth that tells the story of Alpheus, a river deity, who was attracted to Artemis and decided to rape her. She manages to escape by rubbing her face with mud together with her nymphs so that Alpheus could not distinguish them. Giving up his idea, his focus, later, moves onto Arethusa, one of Artemis’s nymphs, who escapes him by being transformed into an underground stream by Artemis. The name of the river from the poem is clearly corelated with the ancient Greek myth and accentuates the sexual desire. How? Well it was the sexual desire, the yearning for the satisfaction of the pleasure that made Alpheus chase both Artemis, and Arethusa.

All of the terms explained above suggest just one thing: sex. “The entire poem is talking about sex, including sexual desire, sexual activity, sexual organs, and other things that have sexual quality.” In the poem, almost every natural element suggests another meaning than the usual one that we might first think of: the hidden meaning of desires.

Another thing which I am going to point out related to the poem is the way it was written, explain directly by Coleridge in the preface. There it retells how the writer was feeling ill and he was prescribed a strong medicine which can also be considered a drug. Due to the illness he fell asleep, reading, as said, the following sentence “Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto. And thus ten miles of fertile ground were enclosed with a wall”. During his sleep, Coleridge dreamt everything that will later be put into words in the poem. As soon as he woke up, he decided to write as much as possible since the dream was still fresh in his mind, but, unfortunately, he was interrupted and, later when he came back to continue his work, he discovered that he could not recall anything from the dream anymore. That is why it is said that “Kubla Khan” is left unfinished. This only represents the unconscious realm and the dream work that Freud mentions in his theory. The desires, the hidden cravings of the poet were camouflaged by the dream work and transformed into confusing, baffling events and objects inside a dream. So, the poet uses the context of the dream in order to hide his desires in his poems and uses the elements of nature, of an eerie world, to disguise the sexual meaning of his true intentions.

In conclusion, I think that, considering the arguments presented above, I managed to prove that Simon Coleridge’s famous so-called “unfinished poem” has indeed a hidden message behind the nature theme it shows at first sight. Using Freud’s work and his terms as a method of study and analysis I show that the poem is highly related to sexual desires and needs that govern the human beings and dictate their actions and character, as Freud mentions.

09 March 2021
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