On our opening night, Conor Magee reads the full text of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This is open to all delegates, as well as to guests. Visit https://liquidscapes.info/ancient-mariner/ for full details.

Below, Conor introduces the text:

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner tells the story of a young man who, while on a voyage, thoughtlessly kills an albatross. Most of the story is concerned with the consequences of this action. The mariner is condemned to endure a nightmare voyage before returning to his own land . Nor does his torment end here, for he is forced to wander the world sharing his terrifying experience with those whom he realises need to hear it. 

“The moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.”

Coleridge’s use of the word “teach” is worth noting. The mariner’s message is profound and didactic. Interference with the natural world will involve consequences in the supernatural. The young mariner’s transgression is that he fails to recognise the natural  beauty of the albatross. His sin is a sin against nature. His experiences on the ship are truly ghastly in every sense of the word, leading to only partial forgiveness and an eternity of purgatorial wandering.

The Rime was originally published in 1798 in Lyrical Ballads, a collaboration with fellow poet and devoted friend William Wordsworth. “…it was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic….”   (Biographia Literaria ch xiv)

“ Romantic” here refers to the romantic movement in art and literature, which amongst other things laid emphasis on individual experience and the transcendental. There is in The Rime a great deal of the supernatural. There are very direct references to theism. Notions such as prayer, sin, forgiveness, penance, sit  comfortably with the presence of a personification of death, life in death, a polar spirit which follows the ship and of course the “slimy things” which “crawl with legs upon a slimy sea”. In a series of marginal notes added to the work much later Coleridge describes the activities of the parallel spirit world.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner seems to speak afresh to us today, in terms of stewardship of nature and the planet. If the mariner were wandering today – and who is to say that he isn’t? –  would he speak of climate change or the near extinction of species or fracking or plastic pollution? To which of us would he choose to teach his tale?

Conor Magee May 2018