Sheer Grace At the Zero Point

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Lines 282-91

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea


Coleridge’s grounding in Biblical truth fed the imaginative medium of his poetry in depth even he would only fully appreciate in time.  From echoes of the Ark to the thirst which drives the need for the living springs of Psalm 22, spiritual truth appears again and again in the Rime.

As Malcolm Guite writes:

And now, in this turning point of the poem, when the mariner receives un- expected and undeserved grace, perceived as the sudden arising of a spring or fountain within, voiced in the line “a spring of love gushed from my heart,” there is a deliberate echo of the story of Christ and the woman at the well. In John (Coleridge’s favorite Gospel) Jesus meets the woman in the heat of the day when they are both exhausted and thirsty. The conversation turns on the possibility or impossibility of drawing water from Jacob’s well. The woman sees only the problems and difficulties in the “outer well”:

The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. ( John 4:11-14)

In both the Gospel moment and the turning point of The Ancient Mariner, what is offered is sheer grace at the zero point. Neither the woman nor the mariner has done anything to deserve it, but for both of them grace changes everything. As the story unfolds, the woman at the well turns from being an outcast from her community (which is why she is drawing water at noon) to being someone with a discovery made and a story to tell which will change the lives of those around her—and so it proves with the mariner.

What is Living Water?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief