The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner

This is my own translation into modern English of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem |”The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”. This work is copyrighted. Please do not copy it without my permission.

Part One

There was an ancient mariner,
Stopped one in every three.
"With your grey beard and glittering eye,
Why are you stopping me?

The bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests have met, the feast is set,
I hear the merry din."

He held him with his bony hand,
"There was a ship," he said.
"Let go! unhand me, you old coot!"
The old man's hand was shed.

He held him with his glittering eye,
The wedding guest stood still,
And listened like a three year old;
The mariner held his will.

The wedding guest sat on a stone,
With no choice but to hear;
And then the ancient mariner,
He spoke into his ear.

“The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
We sailed into the light,
First church, then hill and light-house top,
All sank out of our sight

Each day the sun rose on the left,
Out of the sea it came!
All day shone bright, and on the right
It went back down again.

It rose up higher every day,
And how the days grew long,”
The wedding guest then wrung his hands,
For he heard the sound of song.

The bride had come into the hall,
All dressed in shining white;
And with came her handsome groom,
His eyes were shining bright.

The wedding guest became depressed,
Yet could not choose to leave;
On spoke the ancient mariner,
With words hard to believe.

“A storm front came upon the ship,
A blast from winter's mouth:
It struck with overtaking winds,
And chased us ever south.

With sloping masts and dipping nose,
Like one pursued with yells and blows
Who dreads the pursuit of his foes
And runs and ducks his head,
The ship drove fast, before the blast,
And on southward we fled.

Both mist and snow fell all around,
And it grew bitter cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
Caught in the current's hold.

And through the drifts, the snowy cliffs
Reflected dismal light:
No shapes of men or beasts were seen;
The ice was growing tight.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
We cowered at the sound!

At length we saw an albatross:
As it flew through the fog;
As though it was a Christian soul,
Hailed in the name of God.

It ate the food we threw to it,
And round and round it flew.
The ice fell back with a thunderous crack;
And our helmsman steered us through!

A good wind sprung up from the south;
The albatross it followed,
And every day, it played and food,
From mariners' hands it swallowed!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched each night at nine;
While all night long, through fog 'til dawn,
There glimmered white moonshine.”

“God save you,” said the wedding guest,
“From the fiends that plagued you so!
What brought your loss?” “The albatross,
I shot with my crossbow.”

Part Two

“The Sun now rose upon the right,
Out of the sea it came,
Still lost in mist, and on the left
It went down just the same.

The south wind still blew from behind
But no birds crossed the skies,
Nor any day, for food or play
Came to the mariners' cries!

For I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work our woe:
And all averred, I'd killed the bird
That caused the breeze to blow.
'You wretch!' they said, the bird is dead
That caused the breeze to blow!'

Not even dimly through the mist,
Did we see the sun rise sickly:
The crew now said, the bird instead,
Had brought the fog so quickly.
'It's right', they said,'to shoot birds dead,
That bring the fog so thickly.'

A fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The hull cut through the water:
We were the first, that ever burst
Into that silent quarter.

The breeze fell back, the sails went slack,
As sad as sad could be;
We spoke together, only to weather,
The silence of the sea!

In a hot and coppery sky,
The bloody sun, at noon,
Hung right above the mast and seemed,
No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck fast without motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
And not a drop to drink.

The very deep it rotted: Christ!
That this should ever be!
And slimy things crawled with their legs
Upon the slimy sea.

Near and far, on every spar,
St. Elmo's fire burned,
The water, like a witch's brew,
Shone green and blue and churned.

Some in dreams were sure they knew
The spirit that plagued us so:
Nine fathoms deep he'd followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

Every tongue, through utter thirst,
Was stiff as if with rust;
We could not speak, no more than if
We'd all been choked with dust.

Day by day, what evil looks
I had from old and young!
Instead of a cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.

Part Three

A weary time we passed, each throat
Was parched, each eye was glazed.
Was waiting worst, or was it thirst?
Our weary eyes grew crazed.
When looking westward, I beheld
A sight; I was amazed.

At first it was a tiny speck,
And then slowly it grew:
It moved and moved, and took at last
A shape I surely knew.

When sure, I tried to give a shout!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged round and about,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With thirst unslaked, our black lips baked,
We could not laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought we all stood dumb!
I bit and sucked blood from my thumb,
And cried, 'A sail! a sail!'

Thirst not slackened, cracked lips blackened,
Surprised, they heard me yell;
And mercy, then they grinned like death,
And all at once drew in their breath,
As if drinking their fill.

'Look! look!' I cried, 'She tacks no more!
She's here to do us good.'
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadied where she stood.

The western waves were all aflame
The day was nearly done.
And to the west most horizon,
The sun had almost gone;
When that strange ship drove suddenly
Between us and the sun.

And then the sun was crossed with lines,
Dear God please send us grace!
As if through dungeon bars we saw,
Its broad and burning face.

'Dear god!' I thought, my heart distraught,
As we came near to her.
'Are those her sails that shine with light,
Like restless gossamer?'

'Are those her ribs through which the Sun
Shines barred, as through a grate?
And is that woman of her crew?
And is that Death? Are there just two?
Is Death that woman's mate?'

Her lips were red, her looks were fresh,
Her hair was yellow gold:
Her skin was smooth and as grey as death,
The nightmare Life in Death in flesh,
Who chills men's blood with cold.

The naked hulk came alongside,
The two were casting dice;
"The game is done! I've won! I've won!"
She said, and whistled twice.

The Sun then set; the stars came out:
And darkness killed the day;
Without a sound, across the sea,
The ghost ship shot away.

We listened and looked far and near,
As from my heart, my wretched fear,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, the night was thick,
The steersman's face by his lamp gleamed sick;
From the sails the dew did drip
Till climbing above the eastern bar
Came the crescent moon, with one bright star
Above its lower tip.

One after one, by the star dogged moon
Too quickly to groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a pale grimace,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
And I heard no sigh or groan,
With heavy thumps, as lifeless lumps,
They dropped down one by one.

Their souls flew from their bodies and,
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed at hand,
Like the whizz of my crossbow!”

Part Four

"I fear you, ancient mariner!
I fear your skinny hand!
And you are long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear you and your glittering eye,
And your skinny hand, so brown.”
“Fear not, fear not, young wedding guest!
For I did not drop down.

Alone, I was, so all alone,
On the wide and empty sea!
And not a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The many men of my ship's crew,
They all lay dead, I swear it's true:
But a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on, and I did too.

I looked upon the rotting sea,
Then drew my eyes away.
I looked upon the rotting deck,
To where the dead men lay.

I looked to Heaven, and tried to pray,
But before a prayer from my lips could rush,
A wicked whisper came, and made
my heart become as dry as dust.

I closed my eyes, and kept them closed,
And in them my pulse beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the skies
Lay like a load on my weary eyes,
And the dead lay at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
But they did not reek or rot.
The look that they had given me
It could not be forgot.

An orphan's curse would drag to Hell
A spirit from on high;
But much more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man's eye!
Seven days and nights, I felt that curse,
And yet I could not die.

The rising moon went up the sky,
And halted not a bit:
Softly it was going up,
And a star or two with it.

Its beams they mocked the sultry sea,
And like the hoar frost spread;
But where the ship's huge shadow lay,
The charmed waters burnt away
A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in icy flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched them as they turned:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
With golden fire burned.

O happy living things! No tongue
Could truly tell how fair:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them then and there:
And my guardian angel pitied me,
When I blessed them unaware.

And in that moment I could pray;
And from my neck now free
The albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

Part Five

Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To the virgin Mary my praise was given!
She sent a gentle sleep from Heaven,
That slid into my soul.

I dreamt the buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
Were all filled with dew in the night;
And when I woke, it rained.

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments were all dank;
Though I had drunken in my dreams,
Yet still my body drank.

I moved, and could not feel my limbs:
I was so light, almost
As though I'd died in sleep that night,
And had become a ghost.

But soon I heard a roaring wind:
Though it did not come nigh,
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and dry.

The upper air burst into life!
One hundred lightnings flashed,
To and fro they hurried about!
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced and dashed.

The coming wind's roar grew more loud,
And the sails they sighed like sedge;
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 fall from some high crag,
The lightning fell without a jag,
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the deck,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the moon
The dead men gave a groan.

They groaned, they stirred, and up they rose,
But did not speak, or move their eyes;
It would be strange, even in a dream,
If you had seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on;
Yet not the slightest breeze blew;
The mariners all worked the ropes,
That they were wont to do:
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools;
They were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother's son,
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The corpse and I pulled at one rope,
But he did not speak to me.”

“I fear you, ancient mariner!”
“Be calm, young wedding guest!
It wasn't those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corpses came again,
But the spirits of the blessed.

For when day dawned, they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly from their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around, and round, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted t'ward the Sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes dropping from the sky
I heard a sky-lark sing;
Sometimes all the birds so fair,
Seemed to fill the sea and air
And let their sweet song ring!

One moment like all instruments,
Next like a lonely flute;
And next just like an angel's song,
That makes the Heavens mute.

The song ceased, yet the sails still made
A pleasant sound 'til noon,
A sound just like a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Sings with a quiet tune.

'Til noon we quietly sailed on,
Without a breath of a breeze.
Slowly and smoothly the ship went forth,
Moved onward from beneath.

Under her keel, nine fathoms deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit sped: and it was he
That made the fair ship go.
Then the sails unfilled, their rustling stilled,
And the ship stood still also.

The Sun, directly above the mast,
Had fixed us to the ocean:
But the ship began to stir,
With a short uneasy motion,
Backwards and forwards for half her length
With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse released,
She made a sudden bound:
It flung the blood into my head,
And to the deck I fell down.

How long I lay there in that fit,
I cannot now declare;
Before my living life returned,
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voice in the air.

'Is it he?' asked one, 'Is this the man?
Who on this deck lies tossed,
Who with his skill did shoot and kill,
The harmless albatross.

The spirit who lives by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved this man
Who shot him with his bow.'

The other had a softer voice,
As soft as honey dew:
He said 'This man has paid a price,
yet still much more is due.'

Part Six

FIRST VOICE:

'But tell me! Speak to me again,
Your soft response renewing.
What makes this ship sail on so fast?
What is the ocean doing?'

SECOND VOICE:

'Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean has no wind;
His great bright eye most silently
Upon the moon is pinned.

So he may know which way to go;
For she guides him smooth or grim
Look, brother, see how graciously
She's looking down on him.'

FIRST VOICE:

'But what drives this ship on so fast,
Without a wave or wind?'

SECOND VOICE:

'The air is cut away before it,
And closes from behind.
Now fly, brother, fly! Climbing high,
Or we will be entwined:
For slow so slow, that ship will go,
When the mariner regains his mind.'

I woke, and we were sailing on
As though in gentle weather:
It was calm night, the moon was high;
The dead men stood together.

They stood together on the deck,
Though for a crypt far fitter.
All fixed their stony eyes on me,
That shone with moonlit glitter.

The curse on me with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs,
To turn mine up to pray.

And then the spell was snapped; once more
I scanned the ocean swells.
I looked far forth, yet little saw,
Of life or anything else.

Like one who on a lonesome road
Must walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And doesn't turn his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Will close behind him tread.

But soon a cool wind blew on me,
Though without sound or motion:
And not a ripple or a splash
Was made upon the ocean,

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a wind on a meadow in spring—
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt most welcoming.

Swiftly onward flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze—
On me alone it blew.

Oh dream of joy! Is that indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is that the hill? Is that the church?
Is this my own country?

We drifted o'er the harbour-bar,
And with great sobs I prayed
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep always.

The harbour bay was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was a mirror,
And on the bay the moonlight lay,
And starlight seemed to shimmer.

The hill shone bright, the church no less,
which stood above the rock:
The moonlight steeped in silence blessed
The steady weathercock.

The bay was white with silent light,
Till rising from the same,
Shadows which in many shapes,
and crimson colours came.

A little distance from the prow
The crimson shadows were stopping.
I turned my eyes back to the deck—
And what I saw was shocking!

Each corpse lay flat and lifeless,
And, by the holy cross!
A man of light, a seraph,
Stood over every corpse.

The seraph band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood like signals to the land,
Each one a shining light.

And though the seraphs waved their hands,
No single word was said,
No voices, but the silence rang
Like music in my head.

And then I heard the splash of oars;
And next the Pilot's shout;
I turned my head away from them,
And saw a boat set out.

The Pilot, and the Pilot's son,
I saw them drawing near:
It brought such joy even the dead,
Could not dampen my cheer.

I saw a third — I heard his voice;
And there the Hermit stood!
He sang aloud his godly hymns
As he did in the wood.
To shrieve my soul, and wash away
The albatross's blood.

Part Seven

The Hermit who lived in the woodlands
That sloped down into the sea,
Loved to converse with all mariners
Who had come from a far country.

He knelt in the morn, noon and evening
On a cushion so soft and so plump:
Of moss that had wholly hidden
A rotted old oaken stump.

The skiff-came near; I heard them talk,
'Why this is strange, I say!
Where are those lights so many and fair,
That lit us on the way?'

'Strange, by my faith!' the Hermit said—
'They made no answer to our hails!
The planks looked warped! The ropes all rotten,
How thin and withered are her sails!
I never saw a thing like them,
Unless my memory fails.

They seem like skeletons of leaves
Carried along a forest-brook;
When the ivy's vines are heavy with snow,
And the owlet whoops at the wolf below,
That the she-wolf's young has took.'

'Dear Lord! It has a fiendish look,'
said the Pilot in reply,
'I am afraid!' 'Push on, push on!”
Said the Hermit by and by.

The boat came closer to the ship,
But I neither spoke nor stirred;
And then it passed beneath her bulwark,
And the strangest sound was heard.

Under the water it rumbled on,
Grew louder and more dread:
It reached the ship, it split the bay;
And the ship went down like lead.

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
With which the ship was smote,
Like one who days ago was drowned
My body lay afloat;
But like a dream, myself I found
Within the Pilot's boat.

Upon the whirl, of the sinking ship,
The boat spun round and round;
The all was still, save that the hill
Was echoing the sound.

I moved my lips; the Pilot shrieked
And fainting fell down flat;
The holy Hermit raised his eyes,
And prayed from where he sat.

I took the oars; the Pilot's son,
Began to crazily crow,
He laughed aloud, and all the while
His eyes jerked to and fro.
'Ha! ha!' he said, 'I see it plain,
The Devil knows how to row.'

And then, once more in my country,
I stood upon firm land!
The Hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And he could scarcely stand.

'O shrieve me,' I begged, 'holy man!'
The Hermit frowned at me.
'Tell me truly,' he said, 'I bid,
What manner of man you be.'

With that my body felt the wrench
Of woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
Once told it let me be.

Since then, most unpredictably,
The agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
My heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I stare is like a spell;
That moment the man's face I see,
Who is the one that must hear me:
To him my tale I tell.”

A loud uproar burst from the door!
The wedding guests were there.
But the bride was in the garden bower
And bridesmaids sang to her.
And the mariner heard the vespers bell,
Which called him off to prayer.

“O wedding guest! My soul has been
Alone on the wide wide sea:
So lonely that my God himself
there scarcely seemed to be.

Much sweeter than the marriage-feast,
Sweeter by far to me,
Is walking together to the church
With a good company!

To walk together to the church,
And pray with all the others,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends,
And youths all equal brothers!

Farewell, farewell! But this I tell
To you, who missed the wedding feast!
He prays most well, who loves all well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prays the best, who loves all things
All creatures, great and small;
For our dear God who loves mankind
He made and loves them all.”

The mariner, whose eye was bright,
Whose beard with age was white,
was gone: and then the wedding guest
Turned from the wedding to the night.

He went like one that had been stunned,
And thought upon the warning,
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the next day in the morning.