The Ancient Mariner at Watchet

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Rime of the Ancient Mariner monument at Watchet

The Ancient Mariner statue at Watchet harbour, photographed last weekend

The little harbour town of Watchet is hugely proud of its connection with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who, so Wordsworth said, wrote his epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner following a walk through the Quantock Hills with his sister and Wordsworth in the spring of 1798. There’s some argument on the issue, however, for some say he was inspired to write the poem after visiting Watchet, and others that the Ancient Mariner set sail from Watchet’s harbour.

Which ever way it happened, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner is linked with the town, and in 2003 the town erected a sculpture Ancient Mariner with the famous albatross hung round his neck by the harbour wall.

Written in a powerful, arresting style, the poem begins in this way:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three
`By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin ;
The guests are met, the feast is set :
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
`There was a ship,’ quoth he.
`Hold off ! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

However, the quotation that seems to have found favour with the locals calls to mind the sense of a ship or boat sailing at her best speed. The couplet appears in various places around the town, and it’s one that would resonate with any sailor.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;

The next few lines, however, are unexpected and sinister:

We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

The ship hath been suddenly becalmed.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea !

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

And the Albatross begins to be avenged.

It seems Coleridge knew something about the intense, uncertain feeling of being becalmed at sea. I find it can be a little like looking into the night sky – I can feel suddenly very aware of how powerless and small we are.

But enough of my talk. Please read the poem and use the comment link below to tell use what you find in it.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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11 thoughts on “The Ancient Mariner at Watchet”

  1. My grand mother and mother used to recite the Rime with actions and sound effects to me as a child and I still remember most of it. I can recall sitting in front of the fire looking up as gran swooped like an albatross. The other two were The Wreck of the Hesperes and Hiawatha. Gran had toured rural America in her youth in a theatre company doing Shakespeare and dramatisations of epic poems. I think Mort D'Arthur was there too. I hear her voice as I read the rime.

    Jeff

  2. My mother used to recite poems to me too, including Hiawatha. However they were more often than not humorous verses that had been passed down to her by her mother. It wasn't 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' but rather 'The Wreck of the Raspberry Jam' which she taught me and as a small child I remember reciting all the verses to seemingly appreciative relatives. The last line reads, "And there on the seat of his new pantaloons was the wreck of the raspberry jam." I would dearly love to find the words again.

    My dear mother passed away a few years ago but I can remember her clear, bright voice just as if she was here with me now. It was always a comfort to be read to on a quite rainy afternoon stuck indoors or as one fell asleep and I wonder how many parents still do this when their child insists on killing just one more alien before he or she goes to bed!

    1. Julie you will find a Youtube version (live performance) of The Wreck of the Raspberry Jam. Just google that title.
      Don

  3. This poem draws me in. For years I had the 'Alone, alone..' couplet in my head without knowing where it came from until I looked it up when I was about 20. I suppose I read it at school though the poem I most remember from that time is Lord Macaulay's Horatius (a schoolboy classic) Apart from the storyline of the Ancient Mariner, I love the epic scale of the poem and the relentless rhythm of the rhyming couplet.

    Another cherished nautical classic is Tennyson's Ballad of the Fleet. And Julie reminds me that I really must start reading these poems to my children.

  4. I'm also looking for the words of 'The Wreck of the Raspberry Jam'. It was my brother's party piece on Sundays at our Grandmothers. Would be greateful if it could be sent on. Thanks.

  5. If anyone knows The Wreck of the Raspb erry Jam' please, please tell me,.. or tell me where to find it. I'd love my kids to learn it too.

    Thanks

    Dick

  6. Here it is!

    "No doubt you will think by the title

    that the Rasperry Jam is a ship?

    I see by your faces I've guessed right

    but you've all made a very big slip.

    'Twas the wreck you all stumbled over,

    never guess at a thing with a slam!

    That the Raspberry Jam I refer to

    is plain common rasperry jam.

    One day at a lawn tennis party

    an assembly oh highly refined,

    they seemed to fall over each other in fact

    to show off their presence of mind.

    One fellow was discoursing on Darwin

    said the Professor was right through and through

    "We did spring from monkeys" and then someone said,

    "I believe it when I look at you!"

    That remark put a stop to the discourse

    and our host quite a cheery old sport

    said "I think it would be rather jolly

    if we have tea on the tennis court.

    Said one, "Oh how frightfully ripping".

    Another "Quite jolly I'm sure."

    Another one "What? have our tea on the grass!

    My word what a beastly bore."

    So the party strolled slowly over

    to a nicely meal on the lawn

    one fellow trod in the butter

    and wished that he'd never been born.

    Then they lanquidly flopped round the tea cloth

    and our cheery old host shouted "Sam".

    Now Sam was the host's worthy servant

    "Hey where is the Rasperry Jam?

    Said Sam," I put it out here Sir,

    I fetched myself that I swear,

    I put it right where you're sitting,

    it must be around somewhere.

    Then, "Well look", said the host slowly rising

    and he said a word rhyming with ham

    for there on the seat of his new

    pantaloons was THE WRECK OF THE RASPERRY JAM.

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