In "Kubla Khan," Samuel Taylor Coleridge employs a superficially loose and disjointed construction which is actually carefully designed to trigger associations of imagery that produce mental echoes of juxtaposed impressions ("Coleridge's Intellectual Debts"). The lack of a consistent rhyme scheme, the uneven division of stanzas, and the use of iambic meter with a varying number of feet all contribute to a sense of disorientation, which in turn facilitates the process of mental echoing. The most important element of this effect, however, are the images themselves:
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover! [Norton II, 354]
In a mere five lines, Coleridge evokes a rush of impressions encompassing such disparate subjects as sex, nature, and religion. Unable to integrate this apposition of imagery rationally, the conscious mind gives way to the subconscious process of association, thus leaving the reader with a series of fantastic and mysterious impressions that are felt rather than understood.
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000