The Curse of Porlock

Mar 15, 2011 by

The Curse of Porlock   Calpurnia Pisonis 300x297

I habitually keep late hours, hence ‘Dead of Night Productions’ as the name for my website. While I’m working, I regularly wander outside for a break to spend my time gazing up at the constellations, if the weather allows, just as untold generations of ancient astronomers and ‘watchers of the skies’ have done for millennia before me. This arrangement suits me well, all things considered, just as it seems to have worked for Niccolo Machiavelli, whom I wrote about in a previous post, although my own study is sadly bereft of the shades of Plato, Hannibal and other luminaries from antiquity.

It’s often occurred to me that while I might be lost in my reveries, trying to conjure up a mental image of Stonehenge, Carthage or Tyre as they were some thousands of years ago, half the world around me is asleep and almost certainly dreaming. During the course of my writings and any investigations I may carry out into ancient and sometimes modern mysteries, I try to concentrate on my ‘chosen subjects’ so as not to spread myself too thinly, but it would be the easiest thing in the world for me to devote the rest of my life to the study of dreams.

According to the scientists, whose opinions I naturally revere, we spend up to two hours dreaming every night, although I’m sure that some of the shamen and others in the astral travelling community would dispute this figure. However, even if we spent just one hour per night dreaming, there are 6.91 billion of us currently on the planet, which adds up to a staggering amount of time spent wandering the realms of the dream world. We have doubtless been doing this strange activity since the dawn of time, but we’re not alone in this; my dog certainly dreams on a regular basis, as do others of his kind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if all manner of other creatures dream as well.

We know that the ancients set great store by dreams and little wonder, because there can be few of us who have not been entranced at some point in our lives by the waking memory of some dream, or even nightmare. The use of the word in modern times has become synonymous with a paradise, or a grand aspiration, and it arguably found its most famous expression in the speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr, in 1963.

One of the many reasons why our ancestors were intrigued by dreams was because they felt that they could divine the future by means of the otherworldly images that came to them after dark. Caesar’s wife Calpurnia correctly dreamed of her husband’s murder the night before he was assassinated and ancient sources speak of many other such strange events; the Bible, of course, is full of prophetic dreams, but we have some striking instances of such things from our own times.

Paul McCartney has said that the melody for ‘Yesterday’ came to him in a dream, and if this were the only example of its kind, it would be a wonder, but there are many others. Tartini’s Sonata in G Minor came to him in a dream, but the composer felt that the music which he wrote down immediately after his vision of the Devil playing a violin was greatly inferior to that which he heard in his sleep.

Even so, his dissatisfaction pales into insignificance compared to the anger and frustration felt by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whose wonderful poem Kubla Khan came to him in a dream. Upon waking, Coleridge immediately set about trying to capture his night time vision in writing, but he was infamously interrupted by an unwanted visitor from Porlock. Instead of the majestic 300 line poem he’d dreamed of, we are left with a mere 54 lines of this fleeting original, but even this fragment allows us a glimpse of the possibilities inherent in dreams.

The expression”The Man from Porlock” long ago entered the English language as a byword for an unwelcome intrusion or distraction, but the untapped potential of our dreams today must be truly vast, considering our numbers and the hours we spend behind the wall of sleep. Driven by the pressures of our lives, the urgency of getting to work on time and the often bleak reality of having to make a living, few of us can afford the time to luxuriate in the images, words or melodies brought to us by night.

As for daydreams or reveries, we live in a world of alarm clocks, deadlines, cold calls, texts, mobiles, pagers and all manner of other ‘gadgets that go beep’, so it is perhaps little surprise that we’re not graced with wondrous discoveries on anything like the scale we should rightly be.

WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Leisure, by William Henry Davies, 1871 – 1940.

Dennis Price

Other Posts You May Be Interested In

Mindscape Blog Tagged with: dreamexpressionMartin Luther King JrNiccolo MachiavelliPorlockSamuel Taylor Coleridgesleepstudyvisionworld

About the author

Dennis Price is a classical scholar and former archaeologist; he is also a writer, speaker and broadcaster, who lives in the West of England among the enchanted and sometimes unnerving relics of Britain's past. Regarded as an expert on Stonehenge, he is also the author of The Missing Years of Jesus and is co-author of Ancient Code.
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