Coleridge, the Kubla Khan and the Funniest Story in the World

kublakhan of coleridge poem

Coleridge’s most famous poem

The story goes that in 1797, Samuel Coleridge, one of the foremost English Romantic poets, awoke from a dream with a poem burning fresh in his mind – the Kubla Khan: a vision of Xanadu, the capital city of the Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan and his glorious palace – he grabbed pen and paper, scribbled down the searing lines and got 54 of them down before someone came and knocked at the door and boom! The poem ‘had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone had been cast’.

Not everyone dreams ground-breaking poetry..it helped the Coleridge was an opium addict which gave his dreams a special quality so that he saw the poem as solid images before him but for those of us who don’t take laudanum before we sleep, there’s no way of telling whether the inspirations we get from dreams make great poems and stories until we read them again with the harsh light of day.

Some years ago, I awoke at 4 in the morning laughing. Awaking with laughter is one of those rare and precious sensations that might only happen to you a few times in your life but on this occasion I couldn’t indulge in the feeling as I was already scrambling to turn on the light and find pen and paper – I had just dreamed the funniest story in the world.

It was a story that you couldn’t read without giggling and cracking up from the first line. The characters were comic geniuses, the plot was pure hilarity, the tempo was as tight as a jazz band – where was that pen? I found a a pencil and started scribbling down the story on the back of an envelope, laughter bursting out of my mouth as I rescued the golden jokes and priceless lines of dialogue.

Five minutes later the dream was already fading but I had the blueprint down on paper of the funniest story in the world. It was like holding a treasure map in my hands. With this story I could walk into any film studio in the world, hand it over to the producer and , while they wiped tears of joy away from their eyes, I could name any price I liked. I went to sleep with a grin on my face, resting assured of my fortune and future.

I awoke around midday and remembered the story! Had writing it down been a dream, too? No – there it was on the floor! I grabbed it and wiped the dust from my eyes as I prepared to read a work of art:

‘The penguins were late again! Upside down the crow flew and the markets only stocked ice cream’…wait, was this the story? ”I’ve always wanted to be taller’ said the watchmaker. But the rain was cold – as usual!’

Slowly I realised it was pure garbage. Random words and images that made no sense at all. What had been the funniest story in the world at 4am was incomprehensible in the morning light.

And so I learned that dreams aren’t to be trusted. Unless, perhaps, you’re taking opium.

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