.::. 2-22-2011 .::. written for British Lit. II .::. Abigail Morris .::.
+ Spell Bound
We, as individuals, are like to fall upon different interpretations, emotional responses, and strengths of imagination when reading and offering a response to any book, poem, story, article, essay, etc. This being so, I can only speak for myself in the matter of what effect Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” has on a person reading its full measure for the first time. My experience seems similar to that mentioned in the introduction of the young Mary Shelly in that I find myself happily haunted with the memory of it. The poem is put together in what seems to be fits and stops, as something composed over an extended period of time can often become. The rhyme scheme is off in some small parts and is forced in a few others which become a bit distracting through a second reading. However, the first reading is pure magic. On page 425 the introduction tells of a Coleridge’s well known and highly impressive “hypnotic power” of “monologue”, and I found myself quite easily as mesmerized by the Mariner as the Wedding Guest of the tale. This is one of those rare tales which becomes almost immediately impossible to put down. Once you have finished it or, by some other unfortunate means are forced to quit for a time, you can think of nothing that has not become somehow tainted by the memory of it. After I had made it halfway through the tale I was forced to halt because class had begun—this of course bordered on absolute tragedy for me as I had been so deeply sucked in to the work—and a bit later, once we had launched into a reading of Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, I mentally watched the persona of that poem morph into a man with weathered brown skin and a dead Albatross slung about his neck floating on a shell-of-a-boat toward the wonder of the ancient palace. The spell I seemed to have been placed under by an author long dead took hours to fade after that, and then was rapidly cast yet again when I continued with the reading.
The second reading allowed enough distance that I could stifle my imagination and pick up on the things that distract, like the odd line count of the many stanzas and the rhyme scheme slippage. The annotations left behind by the author were also distracting. You would lose the tale if you read them while reading the poem, but if read apart they seem incredibly bland, as if composed by a thoroughly exhausted scholar. Perhaps he was. Thankfully, this did not derail the flow of my “emotions recollected in tranquility” which much mirrored my first reading. Such linguistic treasures as: “The Night-mare Life-in-Death was she” (p.435, l.193), and “No voice; but oh! The silence sank/Like music on my heart” (p.443, ll.498-9), and then the stanza:
He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve—
He hath a cushion plump:
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak stump.
There are a great many more, but it seems a bit silly to keep going. I could easily write pages upon pages on the tale, but lack the time at present. I can not speak for the experience of others, but I was most excitingly blown away.