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What does rare device refer to in the line 'It was a miracle of rare device' of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, Kubla Khan?

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3  
+1 for caring enough about this poem to ask . . . 60 years ago my father wrote one of the standard interpretations! –  StoneyB Aug 14 '12 at 21:22
    
In fact, a friend of mine brought this poem to my attention, for which I am very grateful. By the way, we especially like David Olney's dramatic delivery. –  Norbert Pintye Aug 15 '12 at 13:23
    
Lucky you. I first heard it from Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Relax. Ick. –  T.E.D. Aug 15 '12 at 18:40

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The full lines are:

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

The phrase rare device means that it (in this case, the "pleasure-dome") was uniquely devised. In other words, it is an incredible, "miraculous" creation.

Another example in literature includes:

"So fashioned a Porch with rare device..."
"As either might for wealth haue gotten beene, Or could be fram'd by workman's rare device."

-Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

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@XavierVidalHernández Coleridge, misuse? Never! –  JAM Aug 14 '12 at 17:25
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@XavierVidalHernández There are more things in heaven and English, O thou son of Fernando, than are dreamt of in thy philosophy. Translation: It is summarily unlikely that Samuel Taylor Coleridge has misused English. First cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s. –  tchrist Aug 14 '12 at 17:30
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@XavierVidalHernández: "Misuses" is a pretty strong word. Coleridge was a poet. He wrote poetry a couple hundred years ago. His poetry has been celebrated and taught in schools ever since. I'll leave you with a line from one of my English professors: "Always assume that the writer [of the work under discussion] is at least as smart as you are." –  Robusto Aug 14 '12 at 17:31
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@XavierVidalHernández I would look at the 2nd or 3rd definition for rare and also point to the phrase a rare bird which refers to a "unique individual". –  Zairja Aug 14 '12 at 17:34
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@Zairja Don’t forget the Bryant translation of the Iliad: “Twelve mantles thence he took of texture rare; / Twelve single vests : twelve carpets next he chose: / Tunics and finer robes, of each the same: / Of gold ten talents; polish’d tripods two; Four cauldrons, and a cup of rare device ;” –  tchrist Aug 14 '12 at 17:42

'Device' comes from the verb 'to devise' (create, invent). Device here relates to the act of devising, or the intangible idea of something having been created, not the thing itself. To our modern, machinery-focused mind, it seems that 'device' necessarily means a widget, but that is not so.

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I believe in this case, device is being used much like we'd today use the word artifice. In other words, a complex manufactured or engineered object.

So basically what he meant by "rare device" is that this was a really impressive piece of complex engineering and craftmanship, not just your basic everyday building.

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I'd suggest that whilst it is the pleasure dome that is being described, it is actually the miracle that is of rare device. The meaning being that it was not just any miracle but a rare and mystical one at that.

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