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A ‘Dream’ Example Of Romanticism

He had reportedly slept for just three hours… that too on the advice of his doctor. He, in those three hours, had a dream and continued to compose a verse. He had composed nearly 300 lines while still in his slumber. After waking up, the poet remembered each and every line. He decided to write down his entire composition, as he had claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in the dream. However, his composition was interrupted by a visitor from Porlock. While he was in the process of writing it, the guest arrived at his place and disrupted his work. When the visitor left his home after an hour-long meeting, the poet realised that he forgot the dream. He failed to recollect those lines even after trying hard for several hours. He managed to recollect only 54 lines.

The unfinished verse is Kubla Khan (Or, a Vision in a Dream. A Fragment), while the dreamer was English poet, literary critic, philosopher and theologian Samuel Taylor Coleridge (October 21, 1772 – July 25, 1834). Together with his friend William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850), Coleridge founded the Romantic Movement in England. He penned this famous verse 225 years ago in 1797.

Samuel T Coleridge

While teaching Kubla Khan, an eminent American professor and literary critic once told his students that the guest of Coleridge should be hanged for causing harm to literature. Later, people started using the phrase The person from Porlock to mean an unwelcome visitor, or an unwanted intruder who disrupts inspired creativity.

Coleridge was in Nether Stowey – a large village in the Sedgemoor District of Somerset, South West England – in September 1797. There, he used to enjoy Quantock Hills walks with Wordsworth and Dorothy (Wordsworth’s sister). Their route is now called Coleridge Way. In mid-October 1797, he moved to a lonely place between Porlock and Linton to take rest, as he was unwell. Doctors advised him to consume opium for pure relaxation. After taking opium in the afternoon, Coleridge sat on a chair with Purchas his Pilgrimage, a book authored by Samuel Purchas (1577 – 1626). While reading about Kubla Khan, he fell asleep, and it was then he perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (possibly an opium-induced haze).


In the preface to the collection of poems Christabel; Kubla Khan; The Pains of Sleep (1816), Coleridge mentioned the story behind this verse. Unfortunately, the poem was lost during the composition, and the world got only 54 lines. However, critics are excited about this poem, as they believe that it is considered a milestone in world literature. Interestingly, Coleridge did not want to publish the verse as it was incomplete. Yet, he read out the poem in the presence of Lord Byron (January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824) on April 19, 1816. It was Lord Byron who advised Coleridge to publish it. On April 12, 1816, Coleridge signed a contract with a publisher, named John Moore, for GBP 80 to publish the poem. Kubla Khan was published almost two decades after its composition. Coleridge is one of the greatest romantic poets as far as English Literature is concerned. Christabel, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan made him immortal.

Coleridge used to be lazy. He loved to leave everything for the future. He used to call himself a tomorrower. His conjugal life, too, was not a happy one, as his relation with his wife Sara Fricker was, reportedly, far from perfect. As he used to love his son Hartley dearly, Coleridge decided to stay with his wife. His family life is reflected in his poem Dejection: An Ode.

Coleridge was an excellent orator. Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy once said that listening to Coleridge was a pleasure as his soul and mind used to speak together. Dorothy and Wordsworth played an important role in changing the life of Coleridge. They encouraged the poet to abandon laziness and to devote himself to his creations. Thereafter, he started writing articles for newspapers and also worked as a journalist. One can get an idea about his literary thought and philosophy in his Biographia Literaria (1817), published 205 years ago.

Coleridge, the dreamer-poet, left for his dream-land at the age of 62, on July 25, 1834.

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