Historical Context in Kubla Khan
Romanticism: In the late 18th century, there arose in Europe an intellectual and artistic movement known as “romanticism.” The “romantics” were known for their emphasis on powerful emotions as a source of truth, as well as a desire for intense aesthetic experiences. In many ways, romanticism can be seen as a corrective reaction to the Age of Enlightenment, the shift toward rationality that dominated Western thought during the 18th century. Romantic artists discarded reason and objective truth in favor of beauty, imagination, sublime experience, and the pursuit of inner vision. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who practiced all of these values, is an exemplar of early British romanticism. In its exploration of the creative imagination, “Kubla Khan” is a quintessentially romantic poem.
The Yuan Dynasty: The Yuan Dynasty was a Mongolian dynasty that reigned from 1271 to 1368. The kingdom encompassed the vast majority of present-day Mongolia and China. The Yuan Dynasty was conquered and subsequently established by Kublai Khan, a powerful Mongolian king and the namesake of Coleridge’s poem. Shangdu—also known as “Xanadu”—was Kublai Khan’s northern capital, from which he ruled in the summer months. The venetian traveller and trader Marco Polo famously visited Shangdu in 1275. Samuel Purchas’s writings about “Xaindu” in his 1625 encyclopedia inspired Coleridge’s poem, composed in 1797.