Show how "Kubla Khan" and "La Belle Dame sans Merci" create imaginative effects rather than specific themes and meanings. Describe your response to the poems, and explain how the writers create it.

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Show how “Kubla Khan” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci” create imaginative effects rather than specific themes and meanings. Describe your response to the poems, and explain how the writers create it.

The poems “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (The Beautiful Woman without Pity) by John Keats were both published during the early 19th century, although Kubla Khan was written in the late 1790s. Although the poems differ in many ways, they both depict many vivid images and both are ambiguous in meaning. Both also involve some sort of dream: “Kubla Khan” was written based on an opium-induced dream and the knight in “La Belle Dame sans Merci” has a dream on the hill’s side. Both Coleridge and Keats were poets of the English Romantic movement, and both focussed on emotion and natural surroundings in their poems.

In “Kubla Khan”, Coleridge starts the poem in iambic tetrameter in the first four lines:

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man.

The first line features sound reversal: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan and the first two lines feature alliteration: Kubla Khan” and dome decree”. All of these features give the poem an introduction similar to an incantation.

The “pleasure-dome” is described as “stately”, showing that the dome is large and is impressive. The river is also depicted, and the lines describing it feature enjambment to create an effect of the river flowing:

“Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.”

The last line in the quotation breaks the iambic tetrameter pattern and describes where the river finishes, and so is shorter in length, for emphasis. The alliteration of sunless sea” further emphasises those words and creates an image of the river flowing to the sea.

The next couple of lines return to the iambic tetrameter:

“So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round”.

The alliteration in the first of these two lines: “twice five miles of fertile ground” emphasises and depicts an image of the vast landscape used to build the dome on. The next few lines are longer and describe the “gardens bright with sinuous rills, / Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree”, which were grown on the large fertile land. Coleridge here describes a large and green scene protected by “walls and towers”, the only man-made objects in the gardens. Coleridge later uses alliteration again: “Enfolding sunny spots of greenery”, showing an area of the land being lit by the sun.

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Coleridge, in the next stanza, describes darker situations. A “deep romantic chasm” is depicted slanting down a green hill, from which “A mighty fountain momently was forced”, with “ceaseless turmoil seething”. The assonance here helps to create a vivid image of the chasm about to erupt. The word “romantic” describes the chasm in the middle of the beautiful landscape. Coleridge also describes the place as “savage” and compares it to a woman wailing for her demon-lover”. The alliteration here helps to create an image of a dark and unnerving place. A simile is used to compare the chasm about to erupt: “As if ...

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