The man from Porlock

There is a story that, in 1797, when Samuel Taylor Coleridge was working on his masterpiece Kubla Khan, his genius was interrupted by a visitor from Porlock who came a-calling. I always imagine it as the butcher’s boy, but perhaps I am conflating two separate stories about Porlock. There is another one about volunteers dragging their 10 ton lifeboat over 13km of Exmoor to launch at Porlock Weir because it was too stormy at Lynmouth. The trek involved a 1:4 gradient at Countisbury Hill and it took 100 men 12 hours to accomplish.  They saved the lives of 18 men.  Perhaps a butcher’s boy was involved in that story?

Anyway, Coleridge claims that he perceived Kubla Khan in a dream in its entirety.  Possibly it was an opium induced sort of dream, but when he came to write it down, he was interrupted by a knock on the door. Thus the poem is unfinished at only 54 lines long and a “visitor from Porlock” is now used as a literary allusion to an unwanted visitor who disrupts inspired creativity.

In Coleridge’s own words (written in the 3rd person)  “…he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock and detained by him above an hour… on his return to his room, found to his no small surprise and mortification that though he retained some vague and dim recollections of the general purpose of the vision…all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream, into which a stone has been cast….”

I sometimes experience this sensation when ringing bells that although the general vision remains, the actual detail has passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast. It is very irritating.

Some ungenerous people have suggested that Coleridge never actually received a visit from a man from Porlock, but just that he got stuck and made up a pathetic excuse. Perhaps they are correct. When we ring on-line someone often claims that the ringing was interrupted by a delivery man/plague of starlings/enraged dog etc. A recent excuse was that the next door neighbour rang the door bell and was enquiring about the brown wheelie bin.  Did it need to go out?  A possible butcher’s boy, if ever I heard of one.

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