The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part 5: Spirits and Ghosts
This is the fifth part of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s beautiful masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. For my commentary and analysis, scroll down to the bottom.
PART V: SPIRITS AND GHOSTS
“Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from heaven,
That slid into my soul.
The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreampt that they were filled with dew;
And when I woke, it rained.
My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.
I moved, and could not feel my limbs:
I was so light -almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.
And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear;
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.
The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,
To and fro they were hurried about!
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.
And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge;
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The moon was at its edge.
The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag,
A river steep and wide.
The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the moon
The dead men gave a groan.
They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.
The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all ‘gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do;
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools -
We were a ghastly crew.
The body of my brother’s son
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said nought to me.”
`I fear thee, ancient Mariner!’
“Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
‘Twas not those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blest:
For when it dawned -they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.
Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.
Sometimes a-dropping from the sky
I heard the skylark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!
And now ’twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel’s song,
That makes the heavens be mute.
It ceased; yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.
Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe;
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.
Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit slid: and it was he
That made the ship to go.
The sails at noon left off their tune,
And the ship stood still also.
The sun, right up above the mast,
Had fixed her to the ocean:
But in a minute she ‘gan stir,
With a short uneasy motion -
Backwards and forwards half her length
With a short uneasy motion.
Then like a pawing horse let go,
She made a sudden bound:
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.
How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare;
But ere my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.
`Is it he?’ quoth one, `Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.
The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.’
The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he, `The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.’
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
After the albatross falls off our hero’s neck, he can finally sleep. In his sleep he dreams of drinkable water, and sure enough, he wakes up to rain. Bear in mind, ever since midway through Part II, the guy’s had nothing to drink but the blood he sucked from his own arm in Part III.
And now, things are getting really crazy. All around the ship, supernatural events are occurring. For one thing, there’s a great storm of wind, which doesn’t actually reach the ship, but is so close and so strong that the mere sound of it makes the sails tremble. Mysterious fire dances through the sky; as for the rain, it’s coming from one isolated cloud (presumably right above the ship), so that the moon is still visible. Lightning from this cloud doesn’t bend like normal lightning.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, the ship begins to move now, even though the wind still hasn’t reached it; the dead men suddenly groan and rise up, animated corpses, but it’s evident that their spirits are not there: they do not respond to the narrator. They resume their tasks, but carry them out like robots.
When the night ends, the zombies gather and begin to sing! A beautiful angelic chorus.
The ship comes to a stop around noon, but not for long. The vessel starts sliding back and forth in the water, before suddenly shooting forward like a rocket, with so much force that it topples our friend and puts him in a daze. In that daze, he hears spirits talking about him: it turns out there was a spirit in the arctic region who was friends with the Albatross, and that spirit seems to have cast the curse on the ship. Furthermore, it’s revealed that while things have recently gotten better for the suffering sailor, he has more woe to come: “And penance more will do.”