THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
“The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.”
He holds him with his skinny hand,
“There was a ship,” quoth he.
“Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!”
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
He holds him with his glittering eye–
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years child:
The Mariner hath his will.
The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot chuse but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is one of my favorite poems. I memorized large portions of it in college by listening to an audio recording by Richard Burton in my car. It’s a pretty cool way to learn literature and poetry because I still hear Burton’s terrific voice when I think of the poem.
The poem is about the chance encounter of a young man who is late to a wedding and an old mariner he meets along the way. Even though he’s late, the mariner’s story is so compelling, he has no choice but to listen, and his life is changed by it.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote it in 1797 when he was 25 years old, and it made him rightfully famous. Thirty years later, he had a chance encounter of his own with John Keats who he met on a walk. Keats was moved by the great, white-maned man, and wrote “In these two miles he broached a thousand things,” among them nightingales, dreams, mermaids, and sea monsters. I heard his voice as he came towards me—I heard it as he moved away—I heard it all the interval.”
It reminds me of my favorite Bible story of another chance encounter on the road to Emmaus. Luke, the greatest storyteller in the Bible, wrote about two people who met a stranger whose stories changed their lives as well. This stranger explained the Bible in ways they had never heard before. Like the Ancient Mariner, it was compelling because it was told firsthand.
How many times have we sat spellbound at the feet of grandparents or others as they told us the stories of their lives? Here we have Jesus Himself explaining the Old Testament from a firsthand point of view!
Eternal God, briefly confined by time, illuminating the eons by breaking bread.
And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem.A
In the collection of Marchese Patrizi by 1624 and possibly commissioned by him, references by Caravaggio’s early biographers Giulio Mancini and Giovanni Bellori suggest it was painted in the few months after May 1606 when the artist was in hiding on the estates of Prince Marzio Colonna following the death of Ranuccio Tomassoni (see main article, Caravaggio), although it may also have been painted in Rome earlier in the year – the innkeeper’s wife seems to be the same as the model for Saint Anne in Madonna and Child with St. Anne of 1605, although given the almost complete echoing of pose and lighting, she may have been done from memory.
Literature and Liturgy: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The English Romantics from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), William Wordsworth (1770–1850) and John Keats (1795–1821)—and in continental Europe, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854)—regarded a form of imagination derived from Immanuel Kant’s aesthetic idealism as important. For Coleridge and Keats, in particularly, imagination was to be equated with creation. Imagination here is fused with passion; this is a Romantic concept of the imagination, but—according to Coleridge—all imaginings are not of equal value. Coleridge saw imagination as a three-part faculty: he identified two elements to the imagination, and a third element that is related to the imagination but does not hold the same creative relationship with the divine. Therefore, as poet, philosopher, and theologian, Coleridge distinguished “primary imagination,” from “secondary imagination,” and/or “fancy.” Drawing very much on the continental philosopher Schelling and thereby Kant’s transcendental philosophy, Coleridge in his doctrine of the imagination noted how the mind appeared to work. Within the mind a reflective element often seemed to make sense of what was being observed by creating images and models to make sense, reflectively. Coleridge commented on the mind’s ability to self-reflect, but also—crucially—to self-experience in the very act of thinking: “There are evidently two powers at work, which relatively to each other are active and passive; and this is not possible without an intermediate faculty, which is at once both active and passive. In philosophical language, we must denominate this intermediate faculty in all its degrees and determinations, the IMAGINATION” [Coleridge’s emphasis and capitalization].
Richard Burton reading a selection from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. There is silence at the beginning of the video.
H. Brazier, C. S. Lewis—The Work of Christ Revealed, vol. 2, C. S. Lewis: Revelation and the Christ (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 229–230.
Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).