PART 4 "I fear thee ancient Mariner! I fear thy skinny hand! And thou art long,and lank, and brown, As is the ribbed sea-sand. I fear thee and thy glittering eye, And thy skinny hand so brown."- Fear not, fear not thou Wedding-Guest! This body dropt not down. Alone, alone, all,all alone, Alone on a wide, wide sea! And never a saint took pity on My soul in agony. The many men, so beautiful! And they all dead did lie: And a thousand, thousand slimy things Lived on; and so did I. I looked upon the rotting sea, And drew my eyes away; I looked upon the rotting deck And there the dead men lay. I looked to heaven, and tried to pray; But or ever a prayer had gusht, A wicked whisper came, and made My heart as dry as dust. I closed my eyes and kept them close, And the balls like pulses beat: For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky Lay like a load on my weary eye, And the dead were at my feet. The cold sweat melted from their limbs: Nor rot nor reek did they: The look with which they looked on me Had never passed away. An orphan's curse would drag to hell A spirit from on high: But oh! more horrible than that Is the curse in a dead man's eye! Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse, And yet I could not die. The moving Moon went up the sky, And no where did abide: Softly she was going up And a star or two beside- Her beams bemocked the sultry main, Like April hoar-frost spread; But where the ship's huge shadow lay, The charmed water burnt away A still and awful red. Beyond the shadow of the ship, I watched the water-snakes: They moved in tracks of shining white, And when they reared, the elfish light Fell off in hoary flakes. Within the shadow of the ship, I watched their rich attire: Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, They coiled and swam; and every track Was a flash of golden fire. O happy living things! no tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gusht from my heart, And I blessed them unaware: Sure some kind saint took pity on me And I blessed them unaware. The self-same moment I could pray And from my neck so free The Albatross fell off and sank Like lead into the sea.
Coleridge was not an opium addict when he first wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” but by the time he published a re-edited version in the collection “Syballine Leaves” (1817) his life had been transformed for the worse by the severity of his dependence.
Nevertheless while in the first version he had had medicinal recourse to laudunum for pain relief (he suffered from early in life from rheumatoid arthritus) it is very striking that the poem imaginatively describes effects on the mariner that Coleridge was to come to know through his drug misuse. Look at the experiences Part 4 shows of the mariner’s isolation, his self- hatred and disgust, his profound sense of guilt, his fear, his reaction against the world around him, his inability to pray. These are all elements of Coleridge’s state of mind that his dependence induced in him.
Just look at the way this variety of feelings is expressed. First profound isolation and agony:
Alone, alone, all,all alone, Alone on a wide, wide sea! And never a saint took pity on My soul in agony.
Without doubt the mariner’s agony is real ; enough has been shown to demonstrate this. Likewise Coleridge’s isolation and agony are terribly real when we read of some of his experiences of addiction; yet it is also possible to see in that complaint of others to take pity a tendency to self-pity. This of course is also bound up with the addict’s dependence on a drug creating isolation where the other is both held at a distance and yet regarded as being indifferent. for failing to break down the wall of self-protection the addict has surrounded himself with. For actual pity when it is presented is often resisted like an insult.
The many men so beautiful! And they all dead did lie And a thousand, thousand slimy things Lived on; and so did I. I looked upon the rotting sea, And drew my eyes away; I looked upon the rotting deck Where all the dead men lay.
Here we have idealisation put in contrast with a profound sense of self-disgust, which brings together the mariner’s feeling of antipathy from the repulsive-appearing creatures imagined to be slimy with a squalid sense of self-failure. The men who are dead are seen as beautiful, now they are safely dead, in contrast to the perceived rottenness of self. Guite in his analysis (in Mariner) has pointed also to survivor-guilt: “Why am I alive when they are dead?”
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray; But or even a prayer had gusht, A wicked whisper came, and made My heart as dry as dust.
We are reminded here of the wicked king in Hamlet. Claudio ( note how the name emphasises the word ” clod”) tries to pray asking forgiveness for his murder of the King, Hamlet’s Father but he cannot. Governed by self-disgust, neither the King nor the mariner feels they can escape their condition sufficiently to cry out to God. The spontaneous gushing forth of prayer is prevented by the accumulation of feelings of self-protection, lack of self-worth, self-hatred which make a mockery of the self seeking to pray. The heart remains as dust, as ground that lacks irrigation, the renewing action of spontaneous emotion.
I closed my lids, and kept them close, And the balls like pulses beat; For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky Lay like a load on my weary eye, And the dead were at my feet.
In total, the experience is one of oppression. The outer world, the world of the senses weighs upon the inner which is as we have seen crushed. There is no restorative balance of selfhood within, that engages with the world of sense-experience. The eye is “weary” , not only from the glare of the day but because there is no inner self re-energising it. Life has no purpose; the movement is towards death.
An orphan's curse would drag to hell A spirit from on high: But oh! more horrible than that Is the curse in a dead man's eye! Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse, And yet I could not die.
We develop in society, we need others to be who we are. But added to the weariness of oppression of the senses is the awareness of the affliction, of being despised and cursed by his fellow crew. This is the reality of the” Nightmare Life-in -Death” where life is a continuing nightmare from which there is no release, not even that of death. Coleridge’s affliction as an addict was the perception he was a burden on those he loved and the fear that he had become unloveable. Locked in nightmare you cannot reach out to the other and the other cannot get through to you.
Then suddenly after that build- up, stanza by stanza of life become unendurable there is a shift of focus. The “moving moon” takes over as subject. The perception is turned outwards from damning daylight replaced by the radiance of the moonlight. . The signal of change in the mariner is the word “Softly”
The moving Moon went up the sky, And no where did abide: Softly she was going up And a star or two beside-
Whose voice are we hearing? With the shift in subject to wider description we might think it a more objectively placed more distant narrator. But when we reach the word “Softly” we know we are not hearing another voice, but that of the same mariner. For“Softly” is not objective description. -what objectively would it mean to say the moon moves softly? It is a word that denotes rather a movement of interest beyond the self in the mariner towards the peaceful heavens, away from clamorous oppressed feeling towards the quietness of the skies and a watchfulness aware of slow, stealing, gentle movement: hence “Softly”.
The inner movement is an apperception of a world beyond the ship’s ” huge shadow” where the water is “a still and awful red” -red associated with fiery judgement and condemnation- towards a greater world of beauty beyond the immediate. It is thus scarcely understood by the reader at the time of first reading, but we are being prepared for a dramatic change in the mariner.
Beyond the shadow of the ship, I watched the water-snakes: They moved in tracks of shining white, And when they reared, the elfish light Fell off in hoary flakes. Within the shadow of the ship I watched their rich attire: Blue, glossy green; and vevet black, They coiled and swam: and every track Was a flash of golden fire.
The revelation of beauty; the movement in perception is brought by watching in wonder. The peaceful heavens, the movement of the moon replacing the oppressive daytime sunlight has enabled a shift of attention which has re-focused the mariner’s attention beyond the self- bound enclosure of the condemned ship, in shadow, towards what Coleridge, in his “Syballine Leaves” marginal gloss, calls “God’s creatures of the great calm.” He is thus prepared for revelation:
O happy living things! no tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gushed from my heart, And I blessed them unaware: Sure my kind saint took pity on me, And I blessed them unaware. The self-same moment I could pray; And from my neck so free The Albatross fell off, and sank Like lead into the sea.
How much to notice here! You will see how Coleridge picks up on earlier words and phrases to demonstrate change. Thus the “saint” is now acclaimed for his pity. But more wonderfully is the repetition of the verb “gushed” The verb emphasises a welling up like water from a fountain or a stream, it cannot be held back. Love cannot be calculated or deliberate; it breaks through spontaneously. We noticed before how feeling, the desire to pray, was too repressed to express itself; here, however, the expression is no longer held back. Attentiveness, has led to openness to beauty, developed into wonder and now into love. The heart is no longer dry. The soul is open to pray. He is freed of the burden of guilt.
Only the very greatest poets can do what Coleridge in this Part does. He does not state, he does not tell us, he internalises, dramatically realises, the movement of wonder and the moment of revelation. To read this part with anything like justice the reader is induced, because drawn to empathise with the mariner, to experience that movement within themselves. That is why the greatest poetry is spiritual; it has the capacity to change who we are.