In Competition No. 2973 you were invited to give your thoughts, in verse or prose, on who the Person from Porlock might have been — assuming, of course, that there was such a person. Many thanks to John McGivering, who suggested this excellect competition. Some fingered, as De Quincey did, Coleridge’s doctor and laudanum source. Also in the frame were Jehovah’s Witness, PPI ambulance-chasers and the drugs squad. And many agreed with Stevie Smith: ‘As the truth is I think he was already stuck/ With Kubla Khan … When along comes the Person from Porlock/ And takes the blame for it.’ The winners take £25 each; Frank McDonald nabs £30.
There came a man from Porlock
And he knocked on Samuel’s door
While he was hard at work. Alas
Poor Samuel wrote no more.
‘Now who be ye’ the poet asked
‘Would come at such a time?’
The old man simply stared and said:
‘Put what I say in rime.’
‘But I have dreamt of Xanadu,
And much have I to write.’
‘Be silent,’ said the visitor.
The poet turned deathly white.
‘I am an ancient mariner,’
The visitor began,
And Samuel listened long and hard,
Forgetting Kublai Khan.
I had to call on him about the drains
(We get a blow-back every time it rains.)
As usual he was peeking round the blind.
As usual he was stoned out of his mind.
As usual he’d some verse for me to read —
For once a mere beginning, not a screed,
About a ‘pleasure-dome’. (Eh? One of those
Big oriental brothels, I suppose.)
It all amounted to a junkie’s dream,
But while he had me trapped he let off steam
About some ‘egotistical sublime’
Completely up himself, so by the time
He’d finished ranting it was far too late
To work. I left him in his blissed-out state.
As usual it would mean another call.
As usual he’d remember bugger-all.
The English team at Porlock Uni prides itself on being critically proactive, so when we took the faculty’s tardis to 1797 Nether Stowey, we meant business.
Coleridge met me at the door, wide-eyed and excited. ‘Who are you?’ he asked, but didn’t stop for an answer. Instead he insisted on reading the beginning of the poem he’d started.
When he finished, he said ‘Well?’ Patiently I explained that work was blatantly Orientalist, stereotyping the Mongol Khagan as an arbitrary and egocentric ruler. I also critiqued his presentation of the dulcimer-playing Abyssinian maid as smacking of cultural appropriation, fit to be held up in our department as an example of bad practice. When I also pointed out that he was a dead white male, Coleridge finally gathered that mine was the voice of posterity.
We are happy to report that, discouraged, he discontinued work on his remarkable but reprehensible poem.
My heart leapt up when I beheld
A rainbow’s ostentation
And so I tore to Samuel’s door
To share my inspiration.
He sleepily came out and said:
‘Dear Will, I’ve had a dream.’
‘And so have I’ was my reply
And blurted out my theme.
For when I’m charged with inner fire
I have to share its flame.
I reached the end and told my friend
That he must do the same.
‘Now was that dream of yours,’ I asked,
‘Of pleasure or regret?’
With misty eye he muttered: ‘I
Was… I was… I forget.’
Make way for the Person from Porlock
Who arrives in a haste, on the doublish
Touches his cap, touches his forelock
Says, ‘Sam have you something to publish?’
‘I got you a slot in with William
With your very loquacious Jack Tar,
But we can’t have you always as pillion
When you’re really the lyrical star.
‘You say that you’ve something in draft?
Let’s have it! The wolf’s at the gates —
We’ve got a whole market to shaft,
And the Christmas bestseller list waits.
‘As your agent, I tell you, we’re skint —
I need some new poems to go —
For God’s sake, you’ve nothing in print!
What d’you mean, “Interrupted my flow”?’
In waking dreams the poet tells a tale
Of caverns, measureless, and honey dew,
Lush images of distant Xanadu
In drug-fuelled visions on an epic scale.
At length he hears a knocking at the door;
A stranger enters, ‘Alfred is my name,
But you can call me Alph. In haste I came
From Porlock, o’er the hill — ’tis one in four —
For I’m your new supplier, and I bring
This powdered happiness, your heart’s desire.’
‘Pray join me,’ cries the poet, ‘let us fire
Our minds with opiates — we’ll have a fling!’
Yet drowsiness o’ertakes him by and by,
He turns aside and murmurs, with a sigh,
‘I fear my inspiration’s taken flight,
What’s showing at the Pleasure Dome tonight?’
NO. 2976: THE LONG VIEW
You are invited to submit an extract of a speech in which a well-known figure from history (please specify) comments on a pressing item on today’s news agenda. Please email entries of up to 150 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 23 November.