Getting the Idea

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I wonder what the business was that the person from Porlock wanted to discuss when he (or possibly she) knocked on the door of the isolated farmhouse in Nether Stowey on that day in the summer of 1797? Maybe he (or she) said something like: ‘Sorry to bother you, Mr Coleridge, but I am honorary secretary of the Porlock Young Writers’ Circle, for my sins, and we were just wondering whether you might be good enough to judge this year’s poetry competition.’

It could have been someone seeking sponsorship for a fun run in support of the Exmoor conservation society, or wanting the poet to sign a petition against the building of the Porlock bypass, or having raffle tickets to sell. My guess is that it was probably an eager fellow asking if Coleridge had ever thought of changing his energy supplier, and offering very good terms if he could provide him with all his fuel needs, including logs, coal and oil for lamps, plus a deal to service his appliances.

We know that this person stayed for more than an hour and when Coleridge was finally left in peace he had completely forgotten the rest of the dream that had inspired the poem ‘Kubla Khan’.

Three cheers for that person from Porlock! Any writer who has ever been stuck for an idea should applaud that knock on the farmhouse door. If it had not happened, Samuel Taylor Coleridge would have got away with an even greater liberty. Dreaming a poem? It’s preposterous. It’s not playing the game. How many of us have woken up convinced we have just composed the perfect plot, the wittiest epigram or the neatest rhyme in our sleep only to discover, in the cruel light of day, that it is hopeless, meaningless or utterly banal? How many of us have woken up in the middle of the night and written ourselves a note about the meaning of life only to realize next morning that it is a nonsensical scribble?

I know only one other person who has had a creative dream and that was my father, the author and critic V. S. P

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About the contributor

A collection of Oliver Pritchett’s shorter pieces for the Telegraph, entitled My Sunday Best, was published last year.

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