RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER: PART 5. COLERIDGE’S MYTHOLOGY.

O sleep ! it is a gentle thing.
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven
That slid into my soul.

The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew;
And when I awoke, it rained.

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.

I moved and could not feel my limbs:
I was so light- almost
I thought I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.

And soon I heard a roaring wind;
It did not come anear;
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud, 
And the sails did sigh like sedge;
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The Moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The Moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag,
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the Moon
The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes:
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen the dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up-blew;
The mariners all 'gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools-
We were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother's son
Stood by me knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said nought to me.

"I fear thee ancient Mariner!"
Be calm thou Wedding-Guest!
Twas not those souls that fled in  pain,
Which to the corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blessed.

For when it dawned -they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly from their mouths,
And from their bodies passed. 

Around,around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the Sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again, 
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a dropping from the sky
I heard the sky-lark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!

And now 'twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel's song,
That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceased; yet still the sails made on 
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe:
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.

Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The Spirit slid : and it was he
That made the ship to go.
The sails at noon left off their tune,
And the ship stood still also.

The Sun right up above the mast,
Had fixed her to the ocean:
But in a minute she 'gan stir,
With a short uneasy motion-
Backwards and forwards half her length
With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
She made a sudden bound:
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.

How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare;
But e'er my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.

"Is it he?" quoth one, "Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low 
The harmless Albatross.

The Spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow."

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he" The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do."

  
  

Coleridge’s universe is vital: full of stir and movement and spiritual presences. The eighteenth century, by way of Newtonian physics, had presented a mechanical universe, run like clockwork, according to “regular motions” . The Deist God existed as a distant applicator of the workings of the machine, the Divine Clockmaker who designed the clock and left it to run. So when Coleridge writes:

The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro and in and out,
The wan stars danced about.

he is consciously reacting against the mechanical lifelessness of the Newtonian heavens.

The Romantics were fascinated by Science; for instance, by the new understanding of electricity and electro-magnetism.. The idea re-emerging in the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley was of spirit interacting with matter. The discovery of Electricity, an unseen power with material effects, suggested the complementary association of universal Spirit with created Nature acting upon the mind. Wordsworth gives the idea expression in “Tintern Abbey” in these wonderful lines:

"                       And I have felt 
 A presence that disturbs me with the joy 
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime 
Of something far more deeply interfused, 
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, 
And the round ocean and the living air, 
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man: 
A motion and a spirit that impels 
All thinking things, all objects of all thought, 
And rolls through all things.

What Coleridge does in “The Rime ” is to particularise within the unfolding of the poem what Wordsworth gives expression to in these lines of the interfusion of spirit, Nature and human thought; this is done by underlaying the story of the poem with a mythic depth. There is a bringing together of Christian and pagan elements ; or, perhaps more truly by demonstrating the development of Christian thought from pagan ideas. The Pagan worshipped- Sun, that which creates life, is made to symbolise the Christian God; the “moving” Moon of pagan mythology is given renewed life expressing the redemptive powers of the Blessed Virgin. (Male and female, it might be said, are given a living connection within the godhead which they lack in Milton’s Protestant epic “Paradise Lost”). Towards the end of Part 5 we are introduced to conversing spirits of the Polar region as a further element of the poem’s mythology.

It is the quality of the poetry that gives potent power to the mythology. This is invoked by the opening stanzas in explaining the renewing sleep of the mariner:

To Mary, Queen the praise be given! 
She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven, 
That slid into my soul.

We notice the way in which the restorative power of sleep is created by the preponderance of s-sounds and especially by the alliterative “slid” that suggests the gradual peaceful movement of restoration. The redemptive movement that brought the previous part to and end with the water-snakes being blessed by the “Spring of love gushed through my heart” is confirmed first by sleep , then dreams of moisture and then the blessing of rain. Given that one of the most powerful effects of the mariners’ physical condition has been that of a desperate feeling of thirst ( “with throats unslaked, with black lips baked”) we empathise as readers with the joyful release of the rain on the mariner. And the release from burden is emphasised by turning the fearful implications of ghostliness to one of blessing:

I was so light- almost 
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.

    

A similar transformation is made of the crew members where their corpses become spirits guiding the ship. The astonishing development here is to show these spirits not just in action but as a worshipping gathering. Hence, the wonderful lines:

"Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around,around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the Sun; 
Slowly the sounds came back again, 
Now mixed, now, one by one."

A wondrous sense is created of sound being circulated and rising to the Sun and then being renewed and returned. To emphasise the importance of what he is seeking to convey Coleridge adds two stanzas on the nature of the sound, comparing it to a profusion of bird song and then to a sounding orchestra followed by the single note of a flute. This rises to the finale of “an angel’s song That makes the heavens be mute”. Coleridge is creating not so much a poetry of spiritual enchantment but a poetry in which transcendent spiritual life, extended throughout the universe, is given expression, so that we as humans are made receptive to other spiritual possibilities within a universe radiated by spiritual life.

Towards the end of the Part there is a further development in the mythological aspect with the re-introduction of the Polar Spirit. This spirit is linked to the Southern Ocean where the ship had earlier ventured when it was visited by the Albatross and it is this Spirit which seeks vengeance for the killing of the Albatross. In his marginal gloss which he added to the poem for further elucidation Coleridge has written alongside the conversation between spirits ending the part:

The Polar spirit’s fellow daemons, the invisible inhabitants of the element, take part in his wrong; and two of them relate, one to the other, that penance, long and heavy for the ancient Mariner hath been accorded to the Polar Spirit who returneth southward.

This conversation enables the ending of the part to bring together the mythological element with the spiritual direction of the poem. The two spirits in their talk bring out not only the need of accountability for evil but also of mercy for the redeemed soul performing penance, with the concluding stanza bringing out with a beautiful image, the tender compassion of the merciful spirit.

"The other was a softer voice, 
As soft as honey-dew: 
Quoth he: "The man hath penance done, 
And penance more will do." 

God said “Let Newton be, then there was Light”

KEEPING FAITH IN THE CREATIVE SPIRIT.

Genesis begins ” In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the waters. And God said, Let there be light.

In that very confident age when the creation appeared to have been satisfactorily explained by Newtonian science Alexander Pope expressed it in an epigram:

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night
God said, " Let Newton be, then there was light".

The orderly , law-governed cosmos demonstrated by Newton’s science was seen as justifying natural religion. Newtonian science seemed successfully to marry science and religion: having demonstrated scientific laws mathematically, he concludes: “It is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes could give birth to so many regular motions” (Bk2 Principia 1687 ) thus pointing to theism. (Blackburn Dictionary of Philosophy O.U.P. 1996.). Natural religion lessened dependence on revelation. God’s workings could be studied by the empirical methods , so well advanced by eminent philosophers, like John Locke (1632 -1704) who, as well as his great philosophical work Essay Concerning Understanding 1689 also wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695).

All this prepared for a rational-minded belief in a God who set off creation, whose intentions, in what had been shown to be an ordered universe, were benevolent. But God did not necessarily intervene within human affairs and any claim of mystical understanding or of visionary revelation was regarded with suspicion, the cause of the troubles of the recent past, that had led to the Civil War, and the superstition of the Middle Ages. John Toland, a radical thinker, wrote a work entitled Christianity Not Mysterious 1696( Blackburn ibid. on Deism). God became distant, religion became formalised, ethical, common-sensical and well -regulated.

Deism expressed faith in God as a watchmaker or clock-maker who set the universe into operation and left it to follow the given laws. This attitude affected the eighteenth century church, where rational minded common sense, a spirit of moderation and good -will guided followers away from extremism but not, it might be said, from complacency.

During the pre-Romantic and Romantic periods, however, reaction developed against the limitations of the rule of reason; the kind of experience it tended to distrust and deny, including emphasis on salvation and the visionary became re-emphasised. In religion there was the Methodist revival started by the Wesley brothers. The poet and artist, William Blake exemplifies the reaction against conventional thinking and practice. Brought up within one of the many non-conformist sects in London, he despised the conformist religious establishment and he loathed empirical philosophy which was sceptical of the visionary and revelatory spiritual experience which he knew to be real. Similarly, Coleridge, although continuing Church of England, rejected empiricism for idealism. Idealism was a rejection of a materialist philosophy that treated the action of the spirit as a development from the material base , rather than the organising principle from the beginning.

Blake and Coleridge in their poetry were concerned, though in a very different way from Pope, with the meaning of “creation” and the ways in which poetic creation mirrored or exemplified the divine process. The word “create” ( along with its derivatives” creation” and ” Creative”) were vital to them and the imagination was seen to be the source of creativity. Coleridge sees the imagination of the artist as reflecting the divine process of creation: “a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM”. Here Coleridge is drawing on the answer given to Moses in his encounter with the divine presence in the Book of Exodus.(see Exodus 3:13-14)

How does this fit in with Christian theological conceptions of “Creation”? I looked this up by checking the New Lion Handbook of Christian Belief (ed. Alastair McGrath2006. Lion Hudson).

But how are we to understand this idea of “creation”? What does it mean to speak of God “creating” the world? Three main ways of conceiving the creative action of God became widely established in the Christian church.

1.Emanation. This term was widely used by early Christian writers to clarify the relation between God and the world. The image that dominates this approach is that of light or heat radiating from the sun , or from a human source such as fire. This image of creation (hinted at in the Nicene Creed phrase “Light from Light”) suggests that the creation of the world can be regarded as an overflowing of the creative energy of God. Just as light derives from the sun and reflects its nature, so the created order derives from God and expresses the divine nature. There is, on the basis of this model, a natural or organic connection between God and the creation. (See Gospel of St. John 1.1,4, 8-9) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…..In him [the Word of God] was life; and the life was the light of men” and “He[John the Baptist] was not that Light but sent to bear witness of the Light, that men through him might believe. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world”.)

2. Construction. Many Biblical passages portray God as a master builder, deliberately constructing the world according to a definite design The image expresses the ideas of purpose, planning and a deliberate intention to create. (See Psalm 8. 3 “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained” or Job38.4 “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?”)

3. Artistic expression. Many Christian writers, from various periods of the history of the church speak of creation as the “handiwork of God”, comparing it to a work of art, which is both beautiful in itself as well as expressing the the personality of the creator. (see Psalm 19.1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork” or Psalm 104.2 “Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain”.)

Of these, it can be said that both Blake and Coleridge see in God the action of emanation in the “overflowing of His creative energy”(see above definition) making creation possible. They see God not primarily as architect or designer as in (2), nor as in (3) presenting a finished creation but as in (1) in emanation moving within, involved in, His creation. For Blake there is continuity from the energy of the creative God for whom “eternal energy is creative delight” (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”) to the energy of the creative artist. To Coleridge there is continuity between God the great I AM expressing His being continuously through His creation to the secondary, more limited but also greatly creative imagination of the great poet. As I understand the Coleridge quotation, I see him meaning, that God sustains creation through every moment as a continuous presence, permanently involved. In great poetry and great art, in general, this kind of imaginative involvement, is reflected in a more limited way, in the human world but in one that is inspirational pointing us to the greater creative action of God. To me this God, so variously pointed to in Blake and Coleridge, is more inspiring than the God of Newtonian science.

However, sadly, in the meantime, the marriage between religion and science has become a divorce; and the result has been the decidedly messy consciousness of our age.

But there is more to be said on that later.