Life Changing Stories

     CaravaggioEmmaus

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.

 

Benedict_FrontLuke 24:13-35

And behold, two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?”And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?”  And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”

And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther. But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them.  When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. 

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.  They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” 

And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them, saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.

 

Dig Deeper

Art: Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, 1606

Pinacoteca di Brera (Sala XXIX), Milan.

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

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on Oct. 21, 1772, in Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire. He was the youngest of 10 children of John Coleridge, a headmaster-clergyman who died when the boy was 8. By that early age he had already read the Bible and The Arabian Nights. The next year he was sent to Christ’s Hospital, a famous charity school in London.
His poetry is known for its sensuous lyricism and its celebration of the imaginative power of the human mind. With the poet William Wordsworth he published Lyrical Ballads in 1798, a volume of poems that marked the start of the Romantic period of English literature.

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.

 

 

 

Bibliography

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).