Instead of the Cross, the Albatross

The Rime of The Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Lines 83-6

The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.


This week we will read and discuss Chapter Seven of Malcolm Guite’s Mariner.  The poem’s opening highlights the importance of oneness with nature as the ship departs, and soon we will see the natural working alongside the supernatural.  We will examine man’s role as a participant in this order and look at the effects of his vacillation between self-centeredness and selflessness.

As Malcolm Guite writes in Mariner, Chapter Seven:

In fact, this takes us straight to one of the most important questions that Coleridge is raising in this poem: “What is our proper relation to the natural world?” Is it a sacred web of exchange of which we are only one small part, or is it simply an agglomeration of “stuff,” which we can use at will for our own purposes? At this point, the whole ship’s crew and, perhaps, the mariner himself have taken an instrumental rather than a sacral view of nature. The albatross is not considered to have an intrinsic value, or rights, in itself, but is merely an instrument that might assist human beings for their own ends. If the bird were useful for the human agenda, then it would be right to preserve it, but if it hinders an immediate human goal, then it is right to kill it. In one sense, the terrible curse that falls on the ship and its crew and the dreadful experience of loneliness and alienation suffered by the mariner are a consequence of this instrumental view of nature, but in a deeper sense the instrumental view is, itself, the curse, and there can be no blessing or release until the mariner experiences a radical conversion of heart and mind in which he can look out from the deck of the ship at the other living things around him and simply bless them and love them for themselves, without any reference to a private or even purely human agenda.

Has your perspective of your place in nature evolved over time?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief