He Prayeth Best Who Loveth Best

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Lines 514-22

This Hermit good lives in that wood
Which slopes down to the sea.
How loudly his sweet voice he rears!
He loves to talk with marineres
That come from a far countree.

He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve—
He hath a cushion plump:
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak-stump.

When the mariner makes landfall, he encounters a hermit and begs to be shriven.  It’s an old word we rarely use today, and it means to receive absolution from confession. We will examine the power of this dynamic this week and further explore our need to confront and release the past to be genuinely free.

As Malcolm Guite writes:

Here, with the woods sloping down to the sea, we are back in the landscape of the seaward side of the Quantocks where the tale began, and, with the appearance of the hermit, we are in the literary terrain not only of the medieval ballad but of the Arthurian romance. But, once more, Coleridge casts a fresh light on his sources. For he reimagines the hermit as a Romantic poet, a figure who is the priest both of nature and of God. So the key language and outer images of worship—the “godly hymns,” even the “cushion” for a kneeler—are all transposed out of the confines of the church and into a natural setting, but without losing any of their sanctity or sacramental power, which is why the hermit is able to “shrieve” the mariner. Indeed, Coleridge goes out of his way to emphasize the continuous prayer that forms the pattern of the hermit’s life, since prayer is, as we have seen, the central theme of the poem and prominent at all its turning points.

Do you confess your sins to another person?






Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief


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Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life