In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's long, rhyming poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an old sailor (the ancient mariner) tells the harrowing story of a ship lost at sea. According to the mariner, everything starts off well as the ship and crew leave England.
The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.
Things go south pretty quickly. Literally—the ship is blown off-course and ends up skirting Antarctica. The ship and crew are in grave danger.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!
The desperate sailors soon find themselves with a good-luck charm, however.
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.
It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!
And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner's hollo!
The audience, to whom the mariner is telling his story, seems relieved. The mariner isn't.
"God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look'st thou so?"-With my crossbow
I shot the ALBATROSS.
So . . . he killed the only thing keeping him from a truly gruesome death. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a bad decision, although—SPOILER ALERT—the mariner does not die.
He does, however, get to wear the rotting carcass of a giant seabird around his neck.
And then things get really bad.
Read the entire poem here.
(Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1797, published it in 1798, and updated it throughout his life. The text excerpted here is from 1834.)
type of very large seabird.
people and culture focused on the teachings of Jesus and his followers.
steep wall of rock, earth, or ice.
weapon made of a large bow with a trigger used for releasing the arrow.
gloomy or sad.
green gem of the mineral beryl.
clouds at ground level.
material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.
gross or violent.
part of a body of water deep enough for ships to dock.
extremely disturbing or scary.
to lead and manage a ship and ship's crew.
call for attention.
water in its solid form.
to know or understand.
church (term mostly used in Scotland and northern England).
structure displaying large, bright lights to warn and help ships navigate coastal waters.
exactly what is said, without exaggeration.
tall, pole-like structure rising above the top of a ship, where sails and other rigging are held.
clouds at ground-level, but with greater visibility than fog.
to consistently bother, torment, or annoy.
written or spoken composition notable for its beauty or rhythm.
to decay or spoil.
person who works aboard a ship.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
(1772-1834) English poet.
large part of the ocean enclosed or partly enclosed by land.
bird native to an aquatic environment.
shine or brightness.
to pass along the edge of something.
precipitation made of ice crystals.
swoon, or state of fainting.
in a specific way or manner.