Sea Stories: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge - Part 3

It’s not often that a poem becomes not one but two movies, or inspired a song by Iron Maiden but Samuel Taylor Coleridge's ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is one of those rare exceptions. It is a 7-part tale about the experiences of a sailor who has just returned from sea. It’s a tale of peril, of the supernatural, of the sea. Today, lets take a look at part III, in which the mariner spots something in the mist…

Part III

‘There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time ! a weary time !
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist ;
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist !
And still it neared and neared :
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail ;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood !
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail ! a sail !

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call :
Gramercy ! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

See ! see ! (I cried) she tacks no more !
Hither to work us weal ;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel !

The western wave was all a-flame.
The day was well nigh done !
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun ;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace !)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas ! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears !
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,
Like restless gossameres ?

Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate ?
And is that Woman all her crew ?
Is that a DEATH ? and are there two ?
Is DEATH that woman’s mate ?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice ;
”The game is done ! I’ve won ! I’ve won !”
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Sun’s rim dips ; the stars rush out :
At one stride comes the dark ;
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.

We listened and looked sideways up !
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip !
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white ;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The hornèd Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four time fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly,—
They fled to bliss or woe !
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whiz of my cross-bow!’

Missed out on Part II of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Read it here. Part IV is coming soon!

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has been reproduced here under the Public Domain licence.

Header image: One of the illustrations created by Gustave Doré for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Credit: Gustave Doré (Public Domain)