Monday, July 27, 2009

Microbe Monday -- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

We're all very into books here, but Microbe Monday is more about the blurb. The article. The short story. The haiku.

So over the weekend, I'll seek out a new literary magazine or open a collection to a random poem or just pick a story I remember from my past and riff on it. Briefly! I don't expect this to turn into a meme, but feel free to gank my little graphic and do it yourself too!

Microbe Monday

The name of the game this week is "What can you read at work to write up a little bit?" The answer is "something public domain on the internet, thx." And so, this week we discuss "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", the narrative poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I'm not entirely sure what drove me to this poem. Maybe because it's famous? We did a Romantic poetry unit in AP British Literature in high school, and I hated it. I had to focus on Wordsworth, and my good friend Emily did Percy Bysshe Shelley, and basically she loved it and the whole thing was a huge disaster on my part because I neither identified with nor felt drawn to any of the work we studied. Then I got mono and missed the final project. So I come at this poem from a solid history of NOT GOOD.

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is about an... ancient... mariner. And he's on his boat and I guess some storm gets them all lost near Antarctica until some GPS-endowed albatross comes with the mist and gets them back on course. For some reason not detailed to my neophyte satisfaction, the Mariner decides to take his bow and arrow and shoot the albatross that is helping them. Everyone's all "Boo, that bird was awesome!" until the mist clears and then they're all "Yay, that bird sucked!"

So they end up lost again and start to suffer from intense hunger and thirst when another boat comes carrying Death, who we know, and Life-in-Death, who we don't. She is a creepy blonde woman. They play dice for the souls of the Mariner and his crew. Death wins the crew, and Life-in-Death wins the Mariner. This is part of their penance for killing the albatross. The entire crew dies, which is gross, and the Mariner suffers this fate worse than death, drifting along with his dead crew. Then some angels (I guess) take pity and possess the bodies of his fallen comrades to steer the boat back to England. Then there's a hermit. And basically the remainder of the Mariner's punishment is his requirement to tell the story to as many people as possible along with its "but for the grace of God" moral. The poem itself is basically meta since it's him telling the story to a guy trying to get to a wedding (and pretty much ruining his day in the process.)

There ends the glib synopsis. So I suppose this poem embodies all you could ask for in English Romantic poetry: passion and the sublime. (Those are my buzzwords.) The poem is hard to follow with the language, but the version I read includes a gloss Coleridge added for clarification. Without it, I'd have been lost. But it reads like a legend... an epic without much humanity to it. Other than the range of emotions the wedding guest displays in reaction to certain parts of the story, there's not much to relate to. In fact, it feels as though the wedding guest is just there to tell us how we should be feeling... like there's a gloss, right, but the poem itself feels like a gloss of the actual tale. I suppose it's an important piece to know considering how oft-quoted it is (see a Wikipedia staple, the ever-relevant popular culture) but I can't imagine it's something you'll need to share with your friends like "You've GOT to see this poem." Though I imagine it would make a spooky short film... or novella.

Oh and I read it online, so... here.

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