Ever since schooldays, snippets of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem have danced around in my head and heart. Don’t get me wrong. I always disliked it.
It prompted great classroom hilarity at the expense of a quiet boy named Alf. ” Where Alph, the sacred river, ran,” we all chanted with enthusiasm looking at him meaningfully. It probably put him off poetry for life.
And a line like “As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,” is tailor-made to prompt jeers and cheers from a rowdy classroom. What was the man thinking of? To be fair, the word was only entering popular parlance toward the end of the poet’s life. But as an educated man, he must have been aware of it from the beginning of the 19th century.
Despite the wild opium-fuelled imagery of the poem, Xanadu is a real place, the summer palace created by Kublai Khan, grandson of the legendary warrior Genghis Khan.
And despite the odd vibrant image, I still dislike the poem. But it did prompt Coleridge’s story of The Man from Porlock–an unexpected visitor who interrupted his writing. His excuse for not finishing the poem.
For by the time the man from Porlock left, Coleridge had lost all impetus and forgotten how he had intended the poem to end.
We all have these interruptions to our writing life. I like to think I’d jot down a few fast and furious notes before rising to deal with the person or problem. What’s your technique for dealing with interruptions to your writing life?
If you’d like a quick recap of the poem, find it here– Kubla Khan. It is a great reminder of the importance of setting to your or any story. It is also a great reminder to read your work aloud and check for anything that could be misconstrued.