The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
The mariner’s journey around the world has returned him to the intimate and familiar. The fulfillment of his quest was certainly one of power, but also one of deceptive simplicity.
As Malcolm Guite writes:
In one way, these clear, simple verses go right to the heart of the matter and, both in sound and meaning, ring out like a bell, precisely like the vesper bell that calls to prayer; for these verses are a call to prayer. So we have the con- tinual tolling and chiming on the “bell” sound in full and half rhyme: farewell, farewell . . . tell . . . well . . . well . . . small . . . all.
The whole poem has turned on the two hinges of prayer and love, now brought together and seen as mutually enfolded: the loving is the praying, the praying is the loving. This is so clear and simple as almost to seem simplistic, and therein lies our difficulty. Coleridge and the mariner are bringing us home to certain essential truths, or rather bringing them home to us. These truths were always there; always there in the gospel and in our deepest instincts, but they are almost too close and familiar for us to see. Just as the mariner has returned to the familiar kirk and hill and lighthouse top after his long circumnavigation, and now must recognize what he always knew and also, in a sense, see it and its true meaning for the ﬁrst time, so we have to recognize the familiar in a new light. He and we are in that place described by T. S. Eliot in the Four Quartets:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the ﬁrst time.
How has your journey resembled the mariner’s?
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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief