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