jim denney

The Ruthless Writer

by Jim Denney

“Don’t let people interfere with you. Boot ’em out, turn off the phone, hide away, get it done.”

—Ray Bradbury

Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived near the English village of Porlock on the Bristol Channel. He became addicted to the opiate drug laudanum after his doctor prescribed it for an illness. One evening in 1797, Coleridge took a dose of the drug while reading a book about Kubla Khan, the thirteenth century Mongol emperor. Under the drug’s influence, he experienced a vision. Line after line of epic poetry sprang into his mind.

He shook himself to full consciousness, hurried to his desk and began writing down the poem that came to him in the vision—

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea… .

By Coleridge’s own account, he had written fifty-four lines when he heard a knock at the door. Answering the door, Coleridge found “a person on business from Porlock.” Coleridge invited the unannounced visitor in and they chatted for about an hour. When the person from Porlock left, Coleridge returned to his desk—only to find that he couldn’t remember the rest of the poem. The fifty-four lines he written before the knock at his door are the only lines that remain. So Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” remains unfinished.