PTSD And The Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Lines 434-41

All stood together on the deck,
For a charnel-dungeon fitter:
All fixed on me their stony eyes,
That in the Moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
Nor turn them up to pray.


We all experience post-traumatic stress, but we also can usually find ways to cope. It becomes a disorder when coping mechanisms are insufficient to deal with the size and or the preponderance of our trauma.  With PTSD we are stuck and can’t move on, and our perspective is one of lostness.

As Malcolm Guite writes:

He still feels the guilt, and even though, behind the apparently cursing eyes of the dead, there are angelic spirits who are there to bless him, he cannot for the moment perceive it. But this is a temporary flashback, and mercifully it vanishes as suddenly as it has come:

And now this spell was snapt: once more
I viewed the ocean green,
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen—
(Lines 442–45)

Significantly, it is at this point that the gloss tells us that “the curse is finally expiated.” This is important because it changes the character and meaning of the mariner’s subsequent suffering. Later, when he is “shriven” by the hermit, the gloss tells us that “the penance of life” falls on him. But this is no longer a backward-looking penance of expiation for the past, but a forward- looking “penance”; a penance which is about learning again to love, and to make his own story a means of releasing love and redemption in others. Once again, Coleridge was to experience just such a transition in his own “penance of life.”

Can PTSD arise from everyday life?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief