Dear Dirty America


Samuel Taylor Coleridge Claims to Have Used Opium

August 13
06:16 2011
Here’s what opium looks likeread Kubla Khan

Karen Mahar writes:

Coleridge was a literary genius and a chief Romantic poet and theorist. His most famous poems—”Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Christabel,” and “Kubla Khan”—combine an element of fantasy with lyric genius, and have endured for over two centuries, providing testament to the poet’s exceptional abilities. “Kubla Khan,” arguably his most anthologized poem, however, reflects a vision and style not consistent with Coleridge’s other fantastical work. The narrative structure of “Christabel,” for example, evokes serenity despite the evil undertones of the poem’s best imagery. In “Kubla Kahn,” Coleridge conjures and personifies surreal and bizarre imagery that takes precedence over any semblance of narrative structure and actual characterization. Given the completely uncharacteristic style of this poem compared with his other works, could the depth of his imagination and ability to compose it have been attributable to his admitted use of opium and the profession that the “vision” of “Kubla Khan” came to him during an opium dream? In other words, is “Kubla Khan” a work of genius or the unexpected result of narcotic influence?

Found in Modern Language Notes (pub. 1953):

Professor Schneider holds that the poem would have been essentially what it is, if Coleridge had never taken a grain of opium. Recent medical and psychological investigations of opium addiction, she points out, yield almost no evidence that opium is conducive to dreams or visions, and indicate merely a blunting, without distinctive distortion, of normal sense perception. Testimony to the strange effects of opium had its origin mainly in the fertile imagination of DeQuincey, whose Confessions have been uncritically echoed by addicts and investigators since. More than this: “Kubla Khan,” far from being an opium dream, is not even a dream. Coleridge’s famous description of its origin was a deliberate fabrication, motivated by an “abysmal self-doubt,” coexisting “with an egotism equally extreme.”

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