by M.K. Waller
You had a dream
Well, I had one too . . .
You tell me your dream
And I’ll tell you mine.
—Albert H. Brown, Charles N. Daniels, Seymour Rice,
“You Tell Me Your Dream”
British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge had a dream. In October of 1797, after reading about the summer capital of the Yuan dynasty of China founded by Kubla Khan, he had an “opium-influenced dream.” When he woke, he immediately wrote down the lines of the poem he’d dreamed:
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. . . .
An excerpt from the second stanza:
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And the entire third:
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
What a dream!
But there “Kubla Khan” ends. While the poet was working, a “person from Porlock” knocked at the door–a bill collector, as it happened–and by the time the person left, Coleridge’s dream had vanished.
The person from Porlock has much to answer for. I mean that sincerely.
I had a dream, too.
Here, a brief digression: Everything you read here is the Truth. The Absolute, Out-and-out, Embarrassing Truth.
My dream wasn’t opium-induced. At my last physical examination, my doctor noted that my level of B-12 was “off the bottom of the chart”–his words–and said I should take a supplement. He said I would see “improved cognitive function.” But I’m seeing something else.
Years ago, I read that people low on B-12 don’t remember their dreams. Sure enough, now I’m remembering them.
So here’s my mystery dream:
I was on a literary pilgrimage–probably driving around New England, since that’s where my literary pilgrimages take place–visiting authors’ homes, when I came upon a large white stone building set well back from the street, surrounded by a manicured lawn: a Sherlock Holmes Museum.
I browsed through the exhibits, but the highlight lay behind the building: a faux graveyard with a white marble tombstone for each victim of murder or general misadventure appearing in a Sherlock Holmes story or novel: terrified Sir Charles Baskerville, convict Selden, murderous stepfather Dr. Grimesby Roylott, innocent Mormon John Ferrier, abusive husband Sir Eustace Brackenstall. Even Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime.
Then the Muse descended! I would take another literary journey to research every single Sherlock Holmes Museum and Victim Graveyard in the United States, and surely in England, possibly in France, and then I would write a book about them. A massive undertaking, but I was up to the task.
When I got home, I told my mother. She thought it was a good idea. Or said she did. Her face said she was thinking she would end up having to proofread the manuscript(s) and, remembering her multiple proofings of my master’s thesis, was also thinking about going missing.
Then I woke up, and the B-12 kicked in. I remembered. And I came to my senses.
How many Sherlock Holmes Museums/Graveyards are there? Anywhere?
And if there are any–who cares?
I’ve had it with Muses. That kind of inspiration I do not need.
I want a dream like Coleridge had. Not with opium, but there must be something better than B-12.
Because B-12 doesn’t stimulate inspiration. It stimulates memory.
The Nine Muses are the daughters of Mnemosyne, Goddess of Memory.
Dreams like this I prefer to forget.
Read about productive dreaming at “Waking or Sleeping?” by Ink-Stained Wretch Helen Currie Foster.
*Let me be clear. Coleridge was addicted to opium. As a boy he’d been treated with laudanum, a tincture of opium, for rheumatic fever and “other childhood diseases”–English professor Dr. Thomas L. Brasher points to tuberculosis of the bone–which grew into a lifelong addiction. Laudanum was frequently prescribed at that time and was sold without prescription at pharmacies, not the best conditions under which to break a drug habit formed in childhood. In later life, the addiction broke his health and affected him socially and professionally–including a break with longtime friend, poet William Wordsworth–and has tarnished his reputation to the present day.
To that tarnishment, I say, Pish-tosh. Coleridge was not only a major poet–the 1798 publication of Biographia Literaria, written with William Wordsworth, ushered in the Romantic Movement in British poetry–he was a “literary critic, philosopher, and theologian.” And I refuse to allow him to be turned into a druggie hippie opium-eater, not in one of my posts.
Image of “Kubla Khan” manuscript Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Image of Mnemosyne (aka Lamp of Memory or Ricordanza) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti via Wikimedia Commons
Image of Coleridge, from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and The Vision of Sir Launfal (by Coleridge and James Russell Lowell), published by Sampson Low, 1906. Artist unidentified, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
M.K. (Kathy) Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly. The blog might disappear briefly for a facelift, but it will return. The picture in the sidebar is not M.K., but it’s as close to a facelift as she she can manage.