In July of 1846, Henry David Thoreau took a break from his two-year experiment of living in the woods to return to town, where he bumped into a tax collector who promptly had him arrested. For six years, Thoreau had refused to pay his poll tax, believing that the money was being used to perpetuate a pair of unjust acts: the institution of slavery and the Mexican-American War, an imperialist venture that threatened to spread slavery to new territory. Thoreau had been an abolitionist all his life, yet slavery persisted, and he believed it was time to do more than just vote. His experience in jail, and the speech he later gave about the experience, became one of the most influential political tracts ever written, with thinkers and activists from Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr. citing it as central to their own efforts to combat injustice.
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“Adding the Sun” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) might be the most enigmatic poet who ever lived. Her innovative use of meter and punctuation – and above all the liveliness of her ideas, as she crashes together abstract thoughts and concrete images – astonished her nineteenth-century readers and have retained their power to delight, puzzle, confound, and enlighten us today. Who was this quiet person in Amherst, Massachusetts, and how did she come to write such unusual poems? Host Jacke Wilson celebrates Emily Dickinson and her special genius – and offers some thoughts on how we can benefit from studying different forms of genius, whether it’s John Lennon describing his childhood or Icelandic chanteuse Björk, interviewing herself.
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In 1797, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge took two grains of opium and fell into a stupor. When he awoke, he had in his head the remnants of a marvelous dream, a vivid train of images of the Chinese emperor Kubla Khan and his summer palace, Xanadu. The vision transformed itself into lines of poetry, but as he started writing, he was interrupted by a Person from Porlock, who arrived at Coleridge’s cottage on business and stayed for an hour. when Coleridge returned to his work, the vision had been lost, and the fragmentary nature of the poem Kubla Khan has haunted its admirers ever since. The resentment has centered around the bumbling Person from Porlock, whose visit remains shrouded in mystery. The scholar Jonathan Livingston Lowes put it bluntly: “If there is any man in the history of literature who should e hanged, drawn, and quartered,” he wrote, “it is the man on business from Porlock.”
Who was this Person from Porlock, and why was he knocking on the door of Coleridge’s cottage? How did Coleridge handle the interruption, and what did it mean for him and his art? And finally, what might we take from this vivid legend today?
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“Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).
“Piano Between” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0