The History of Literature #51 – Coleridge, Kubla Khan, and the Person from Porlock – A Literary Mystery

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In 1797, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge took two grains of opium and fell into a stupor. When he awoke, he had in his head the remnants of a marvelous dream, a vivid train of images of the Chinese emperor Kubla Khan and his summer palace, Xanadu. The vision transformed itself into lines of poetry, but as he started writing, he was interrupted by a Person from Porlock, who arrived at Coleridge’s cottage on business and stayed for an hour. when Coleridge returned to his work, the vision had been lost, and the fragmentary nature of the poem Kubla Khan has haunted its admirers ever since. The resentment has centered around the bumbling Person from Porlock, whose visit remains shrouded in mystery. The scholar Jonathan Livingston Lowes put it bluntly: “If there is any man in the history of literature who should e hanged, drawn, and quartered,” he wrote, “it is the man on business from Porlock.”

Who was this Person from Porlock, and why was he knocking on the door of Coleridge’s cottage? How did Coleridge handle the interruption, and what did it mean for him and his art? And finally, what might we take from this vivid legend today?

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Show Notes: 

You can find more literary discussion at jackewilson.com and more episodes of the series at historyofliterature.com.

Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Piano Between” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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