Person from Porlock

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The person from Porlock was an unwelcome visitor to Samuel Taylor Coleridge during his composition of the poem Kubla Khan in 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.


In 1797, Coleridge was living at Nether Stowey, a village in the foothills of the Quantocks. However, due to ill health, he had "retired to a lonely farm house between Porlock and Lynton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire".[1] It is unclear whether the interruption took place at Culbone Parsonage or at Ash Farm. He described the incident in his first publication of the poem, writing about himself in the third person:

On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter![1]


In Coleridge, Opium and "Kubla Khan", University of Chicago Press, 1953, Elisabeth Schneider suggested that this prologue, as well as the person from Porlock, was fictional and intended as a credible explanation of the poem's seemingly fragmentary state as published.[2] The poet Stevie Smith also suggested this view in one of her own poems, saying "the truth is I think, he was already stuck".[3]


  1. ^ a b Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Christabel, Kubla Khan, and the Pains of Sleep, 2nd edition, William Bulmer, London, 1816. Reproduced in The Complete Poems, ed. William Keach, Penguin Books, 2004.
  2. ^ The 1816 Preface and Kubla Khan as a "Fragment" at the Wayback Machine (archive index)
  3. ^ Stevie Smith, "Thoughts about the Person from Porlock"