Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Malcolm Guite

Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God!”
You made your epitaph imperative,
And stopped this wedding guest!
But I am glad To stop with you and start again, to live
From that pure source, the all-renewing stream,
Whose living power is imagination,
And know myself a child of the I AM,
Open and loving to his whole creation.
Your glittering eye taught mine to pierce the veil,
To let his light transfigure all my seeing,
To serve the shaping Spirit whom I feel,
And make with him the poem of my being.
I follow where you sail towards our haven,
Your wide wake lit with glimmerings of heaven.

We come now to a turning of the page.  August is concluding and with it our study of Malcolm Guite’s Mariner.  What a journey it has been!  As we enter the early days of a new season, we likewise find ourselves reflective wedding guests whose lives are now shaped by the Mariner’s tale.

As Malcolm Guite writes:

And what of us, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, two hundred years after this poem was published in its final form? Where does the poem find us, where does it leave us, as a culture and a society? I have tried to show in this book how Coleridge himself lived through the whole tale after he wrote it, how he passed through early joy, out into shipwreck and loneliness, into alienation and anomie, and returned at last, through a renewal of vision, to prayer and compassion. Over the course of his life, Coleridge, in a sense, com- pleted the tale: he lived through every phase of the prophecy even to its re- demptive conclusion. But that may not be true of us. In one sense we have not yet caught up with Coleridge. Looking out at our present situation, at our exploitation and pollution of the world, at our crisis of faith and meaning, but also at our spiritual yearning, at our renewed interest in imagination and symbol, it seems to me that as a culture we are still on the voyage, still only partway through, still trapped in the loneliness and loathing of a wide wide sea, but perhaps just beginning to see the first glimmer of a moonrise, of a new vision, of a repentance, a new way of seeing and feeling, a new more chastened and humble account of our relations with nature and with the numinous, that may yet redeem and bring us home. Perhaps this prescient poem has more truths yet to tell us, new prophecies to fulfill. Coleridge may help us to read the signs and interpret the new light when it comes.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has passed like night from land to land, has passed from one generation to another, finding its ideal readers, finding the listeners to hear the tale, from Coleridge to Doré and MacDonald, from Mac- Donald to Jones and Lewis, from Lewis to Peake, from Peake to R. S. Thomas, and out to our own generation, out to Chris Jordan photographing the slain albatrosses on Midway Island and weaving verses from The Ancient Mariner into his film. This tale found me also, and drew me into its orbit, transfixed me with its spell, sent me out again, “a sadder and a wiser man.” Perhaps, as you close the pages of this book, it will find you too.

The Wedding Guest was “sadder and wiser” after the tale.  Are you?






Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief


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Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life