The Ship Was Cheered

THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE

Part 1

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 choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—’
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.’

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.


We come now to Part Two of Malcolm Guite’s Mariner where we will examine The Rime itself.  Here we will find uncanny parallels to Coleridge’s life, and if we look closely, to our own as well.  As we begin Chapter Six, we are now the unwillingly captivated wedding guest who most clearly was anguished by the imposition of urgency and importance in the mariner’s voice.  The story is of a journey and we shall certainly come along to hear and to learn its cautionary and ultimately transformative message.

Malcolm Guite writes:

“Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?” asks the guest, in the very first verse. With him, we need to keep asking ourselves as we read the question: Why am I hearing this? We empathize with the poor wedding guest who wonders why he should be the unlucky one picked out by this embarrassing “grey beard loon” while his two friends go merrily off to the festivities. The first time he and we ask this question “why me?” it is at the most trivial and resentful level that such a question can be asked. But even as the water deepens under the keel of a mysterious ship, so the question “why me?,” “Wherefore stopps’st thou me?” deepens for the wedding guest and for us. It is only toward the very end of the poem that the mariner reveals that this meeting, this stopping one of three, is not in the least random, for he knows intuitively who needs to hear his story, who it is for whom the experience of hearing his story will turn out to be a turning point in their story.

As we read through each part of this poem and open out its meaning, we will be asking and answering this “wherefore” question, for ourselves in our own age, and also for Coleridge. The task of writing this poem came to Coleridge rather as the mariner comes to the guest: as an unexpected interruption, a compelling diversion from his main agenda, but in the end, as much for the poet as for the wedding guest, the experience of the poem became so personal that it changed everything.

Has your life ever been changed by another person’s experiences?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief