The Letter X (A-to-Z Challenge)

Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A poem which is sometimes informally called “Xanadu” even if the real name is “Kubla Khan” was such an obvious and irresistible choice for the Letter X, even if it would mean a little research because I really did not know much about either poem or poet. I had read Kubla Khan a few times over the years because it was in the sixth grade homeschool curriculum we used for some of the kids. At the time it had struck me as an odd choice for inclusion in a middle school literature anthology,* because I was pretty sure I had heard that Coleridge had written it in the initial moments after waking from an opium induced dream.

Due to the constraints of time and other extenuating circumstances I’ll explain below** I am simply going to quote from Wiki:

“Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment” /ˌkʊblə ˈkɑːn/ is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, completed in 1797 and published in 1816. According to Coleridge’s Preface to “Kubla Khan”, the poem was composed one night after he experienced an opium-influenced dream after reading a work describing Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China Kublai Khan.[1] Upon waking, he set about writing lines of poetry that came to him from the dream until he was interrupted by a person from Porlock. The poem could not be completed according to its original 200–300 line plan as the interruption caused him to forget the lines. He left it unpublished and kept it for private readings for his friends until 1816 when, at the prompting of Lord Byron, it was published.”

Here let me mention that I’ve never tried opium or anything even remotely similar.

Still, when I’m writing I get to a phase of consciousness where I’m leaning way back in my chair gazing unfocused through barely open eyes between the ghostly twin outlines of my own nose (the left outline the more substantive) at the small screen which has expanded to completely fill my vision, the rows of fuzzy black letters I can’t really distinguish from this far back swimming in the pixels but because I’ve just written them I’m able to recognize them by outline.  My body is completely relaxed, my wrists are resting on the sharp edge of the desk, all of weight of my arms and hands concentrated right there on that delicate joint between wrist and palm but in this state it doesn’t seem to matter.  My arms are slack and all my joints so relaxed that a startling noise might cause nerves to be pinched or injury done, fingers are fully extended and fluttering almost flaccidly over the keys with the hypnotic clatter of a whirling ratchet toy and the words are pouring out in a stream as easy and effortless as the twirling of a hula hoop you’ve finally gotten going the just right speed at just the right place so that it could continue forever with only the slightest motion from your body. Exquisite and dazzling ideas are forming and congealing with the iridescent beauty of the voice of a coloratura spinning in the high ceiling of an opera house and time becomes meaningless.***

That is me stone cold sober at nine o’clock on a weekday morning, swilling coffee and crunching on dry granola, sunlight coming in at the window, the washer and dryer running, and only about two hours allotted to select, research, introduce, dissect and sew back up the Letter of the Day.

And this brings us to the Person from Porlock.  Again, from Wiki:

The Person from Porlock was an unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khanin 1797. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (possibly an opium-induced haze), but was interrupted by this visitor from Porlock while in the process of writing it. Kubla Khan, only 54 lines long, was never completed. Thus “Person from Porlock”, “Man from Porlock”, or just “Porlock” are literary allusions to unwanted intruders who disrupt inspired creativity.

These days the Person from Porlock can call you on the phone as well as bang on your front door.


Now, none of you are actually going to believe this, but I swear it happened in just this way.

Leaning back in my chair, gazing through unfocused eyes…blah blah blah…I had just typed the words “…bang on your front door” when there came the distinct sound of my own front door opening quietly. All my loose jointed limbs snapped to attention, pinching my nerves, and my heavy-lidded eyes flew open and my heart froze between beats and I only just stopped myself from leaping up and fleeing.  Then the door shut and there came the sound of feet from the front entry.  I leapt up and fled.

Our house is an amalgamation of a regular medium sized house and a smaller, attached in law apartment which we threw together into a single dwelling a few years ago.  The first owner had been a handyman with grand ideas of what he was going to do with the the property but before these plans could be realized his wife left him and he had to sell it and we bought it.  Some of his ideas had included elaborate backyard patio and pool construction and he had prepared by installing lots of access from the house to this doomed paradise.  The nice thing about this is that when you are home alone you are never more than a few feet away from escape hatch.****  So from the moment I heard the stealthy tread of an intruder to the moment I found myself standing blinking and terrified in the middle of the backyard in my socks and bathrobe***** only about one and a half seconds had elapsed.  The only problem was that I had not grabbed a phone on the way out and so I could not dial 911.

As it turned out this was a good thing. Standing shocked and shivering in the wet crabgrass, recovering slowly from Xanadu, I remembered that today is Tuesday, and Tuesday morning is when the cleaners come.******

So this morning the Person from Porlock came in and cleaned my house for me, which it would be churlish of me to complain about, but that is the end of anything creative I can accomplish for today.*******

At least I’ll be uncreative in a sparkling clean environment.

And as a bonus, now I’ve got a new term for the person who interrupts me!

See you tomorrow for Letter Y,



*especially for homeschoolers, right?

**I had roughed everything else up to the line of x’s but had left filling in this paragraph to the end.

***I should apologize here. This gush of fancy was necessary to this essay, but I promise you I’ll never embarrass you with anything like it again.

****Where there are more ways to get out there are also more ways to get in, but I try not to think about that.

*****Do not judge.  It’s late April, but it’s still COLD here.  Why should I not wear a bathrobe over my clothes instead of turning up the heat?

******Not every Tuesday, though, so it wasn’t entirely silly of me to have forgotten.

*******Before the Cleaners from Porlock burst in I had discovered with great delight this line in the poem: “As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing” and I immediately thought of the production company of the David Letterman show, which I believe was named “World Wide Pants.”  I was going to look into this and be very amusing indeed, but now it’s all gone, sorry.


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