RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER: PART 7
This Hermit good lives in that wood Which slopes down to the sea. How loudly his sweet voice he rears! He loves to talk with marineres That come from a far countree. He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve- He hath a cushion plump: It is the moss that wholly hides That rotted old oak stump. The skiff-boat neared: I heard them talk, "Why this is strange I trow! Where are those lights so many and fair, That signal made but now?" "Strange, by my faith!" the Hermit said- "And they answered not our cheer! The planks look warped! and see those sails, How thin they are and sere! I never saw aught like to them, Unless perchance it were Brown skeletons of leaves that lag My forest-brook along: When the ivy-tod is heavy with snow, And the owlet whoops to the wolf below, That eats the she-wolf's young". "Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look- (The Pilot made reply) I am a-feared"- "Push on, push on!" Said the hermit cheerily. The boat came closer to the ship, But I nor spake, nor stirred; The boat came close beneath the ship, And straight a sound was heard. Under the water it rumbled on, Still louder and more dread: It reached the ship, it split the bay; The ship went down like lead. Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound, Which sky and ocean smote, Like one that had been seven days drowned My body lay afloat: But swift as dreams, myself I found Within the Pilot's boat. Upon the whirl, where sank the ship, The boat span round and round; And all was still, save that the hill Was telling of the sound. I moved my lips-the Pilot shrieked And fell down in a fit; The holy Hermit raised his eyes And prayed where he did sit. I took the oars: the Pilot's boy, Who now doth crazy go, Laughed loud and long, and all the while His eyes went to and fro. "Ha!ha!" quoth he, full plain I see, The Devil knows how to row." And now, all in my own countree, I stood on the firm land! The Hermit stepped forth from the boat, And scarcely he could stand. "O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man! The Hermit crossed his brow. "Say quick " quoth he, " I bid thee say- What manner of man art thou?" Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched With a woful agony Which forced me to begin my tale: And then it left me free. Since then at an uncertain hour, That agony returns: And till my ghastly tale is told, This heart within me burns. I pass, like night from land to land: I have strange power of speech: That moment that his face I see, I know the man that I must teach. What loud uproar bursts from that door! The Wedding-guests are there: But in the garden-bower the bride And bride-maids singing are: And hark the little vesper-bell, Which biddeth me to prayer! O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been Alone on a wide wide sea: So lonely twas, that God himself Scarce seemed there to be. O sweeter than the marriage -feast 'Tis sweeter far to me, To walk together to the kirk With a goodly company!- To walk together to the kirk, And all together pray, While each to his great Father bends, Old men, and babes, and loving friends And youths and maidens gay! Farewell, farewell! but this I tell To thee, thou Wedding-Guest! He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small: For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all. The Mariner, whose eye is bright, hose beard with age is hoar, Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest Turned from the bridegroom's door. He went like one that hath been stunned, And is of sense forlorn: A sadder and a wiser man, He rose the morrow morn.
The journey is almost done. We are being returned again-as the previous part has indicated-to the lighthouse-top, the hill, the church.
In Part 7 the Mariner is conducted to harbour by the Pilot roused by the strange lights of the incoming ship. The pilot is attended by the Hermit who brings the imagery of the wood into this poem of sea voyage. The Hermit combines a God-fearing quality with love of Nature ( of which he is revealed to be a close observer), and also a curiosity in the tales of mariners from far abroad.
The transfer of the Mariner to the pilot’s boat takes place after the mysterious sinking of the ship, which Coleridge makes wonderfully dramatic, or climactic. The supernatural powers have completed their mission of carrying the mariner back to his homeland; the ship disintegrates and goes down “like lead”. The Mariner is submerged and then :
Like one that hath been seven days drowned My body lay afloat
Guite (Mariner:A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge Hodder and Stroughton 2018) likens this experience of the mariner to baptism. “Baptism is a ritual enactment of dying and rising, of drowning and breaking the waters coming to new birth.”
The shock of the disappearance of the ship, the whirling round of the pilot’s boat in the consequent whirlpool and the mysterious transition of the body of the Mariner to the company, not as a drowned body but one capable of speech and action induces the fear that the mariner is a ghost and is, amid the boy’s hysteria, relieved by a moment of humour :
" Ha! ha! quoth he, "full plain I see The Devil knows how to row".
The presence of the Hermit advances the redemption theme. The Mariner needs to be shrieved-to utter confession to be fully absolved of his sin and continue in penetential purpose. This develops the Wandering Jew idea in which the Mariner becomes a wanderer from land to land as one also, needing to tell his tale.
There is a shift of perspective, returning to the Wedding-Guest scene of the start of the poem, to the Mariner’s address to the Wedding-Guest, bringing to him a new understading of the familiar: communal-life, the need to share in worship and prayer and a reminder of the great moral point of the poem. While Coleridge later felt that this section was too overt in its putting out the moral message -ideally he believed the moral truth should be contained within the art and not made to become explicit moral statement-it is also the case that for the mariner on his mission such explicitness would be a necessary part of his mission. As such it seems to me to work:
He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.
These stanzas are contrasted with the previous one which emphasises what had been the Mariner’s plight:
"O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been Alone on a wide wide sea: So lonely twas that God himself Scarce seemed there to be.
Isolation and disbelief are put together. The poem affirms, however, that the God who “seemed” not to be is in fact there as a potentially redemptive power which eventually on the turn of the Mariner’s mind towards love of the beauty of the water-snakes comes fully into play.
Modern readers have recognised the continuing relevance of the poem especially in our time when the threat to the natural world destroyed by human exploitation has come to the fore. The albatross destroyed by the Mariner’s arrow remains a creature encapsulating the wanton heedlessness and greed of humankind. That came to the fore with Chris Jordan’s film of the devastation plastic is causing in the albatross population. (See an excellent review of his film in The Guardian March 12 2018)
Coleridge’s poem in its theme is peculiarly modern in its concern with our relationship with the natural world while also pointing to the crisis of the individual soul having lost a belief in a creator God separated from Nature, living in a state of apartness from the creation which for his own health or wholeness he needs to reverence. Aware of the individual’s capacity for evil Coleridge combines what we might call the ecological theme with the need for personal redemption. This is the challenge of the poem to the modern reader, who may tend to emphasise the priority of the ecological theme at the expense of the religious purpose. But Coleridge reminds us that -to paraphrase Solzhenitsyn- the line between good and evil runs not just between political ideologies-the ecological -minded against the promoters of growth- but through every individual heart. To Coleridge the heart turned to a loving Creator knows the need to reverence God’s creation.