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Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a long-form poem detailing a sailor's account of his long voyage. It is a very influential work and one that has been imitated and adapted many times, in other works and in film and television. It has also been parodied, most notably as "Yarn of the Nancy Bell," by Sir W.S. Gilbert.
The poem is composed of simple quatrains, or four-line stanzas, and is notable for the imagery in each; every line is evocative of a mood or feeling:
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,(60)
Like noises in a swound!
While "swound" may or may not be meaningful, the power of the ice is apparent; it is a hostile and unfeeling thing that will not notice if it causes damage, and the poor Mariner is fearful of being crushed or swallowed in it.
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;(105)
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
This quatrain is self-explanatory, but notice how the very ship echoes the feelings of the sailors. The ocean, meanwhile, is silent; this is a terrible thing for sailing, for it means there is no wind, no storms (to gather fresh water), and no movement of the ship. Indeed, the melancholy of a becalmed ship extends farther than the men on it.
Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,(180)
Like restless gossameres!
A possible rescue ship is grounds for joy on the part of the sailors, but the Mariner, despite his hope, can see something amiss. His hope is echoed in the positive image of "gossameres," the rags of the sails, perhaps hoping it is dew that sparkles instead of simply being able to see through them.
My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,(300)
And still my body drank.
When it finally rains, the feeling is not as good as the Mariner had hoped. The lifegiving water is "dank" and "cold," and his body forces him to drink more than he needs, because of his severe dehydration. After so many images of death and heat, in which all his fellow sailors died, the shock of the water is almost palpable in the text.
(All quotes from Coleridge, The Rime of..., eNotes eText.)
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