A PAINTED SHIP
James Cook: So what have you got down already?
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Not much really, Part 1 Begins with a kind of introduction that’s all. You told me the voyage was an initiation into the mysteries of the Southern Ether; so I have planned seven parts – seven is a pretty good Etheric number. Part 1 is that of the Physical Body, anyway it goes:
|It is an ancient mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set;
May’st hear the merry din.”
He holds him with his skinny hand,
“There was a ship,” quoth he.
“Hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!”
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
|He holds him with his glittering eye –
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child;
The mariner hath his will.
The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone;
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner
J.C: Not bad, but put capitals on ‘Bridegroom’ and ‘Wedding Guest’; this is after all a Christian allegory. I like the repetition of the number three in there with its ‘Trinity’ associations. Now get on with the story. (‘eftsoons’ – yea gods!)
|“The ship was cheered, the harbor cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.
The sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Wend down into the sea.
|Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon –“
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.
Did you have to keep coming back to the Wedding Guest? People want adventure. But I like the way you’ve described the progression down the latitudes ‘Till over the mast at noon.’ Nice. That was actually the Equator, west of Africa in the September Equinox; then we sailed on south to the Tropic of Capricorn. This is actually a misnomer I’ve discovered since being ‘up here’; it should, since 1413, be the Tropic of Sagittarius – that’s the sign now behind the sun in the Southern Hemisphere Summer Solstice. You don’t mind if I use correct terminology do you?
S.C: As if this navigational stuff isn’t hard enough! I’m only a simple landlubber you know – okay, Tropic of Sagittarius it is.
J.C.: Now this story is about my second voyage, in the Resolution (1773-75). We took along a consort vessel, but you don’t have to mention that.
The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before he goes
The merry minstrelsy.
I thought I said to skip that wedding stuff!
S.C.: Who’s writing this?! You’re only here as a consultant – right?! If you had been a skilled wordsmith, the Royal Society would have given you the job of writing the poem. Reading your logs, they sound as if they were written with a boat hook up your…
J.C.: Hold it right there!
|“And now the Storm-blast came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong;
He struck with his o’ertaking winds,
And chased us south along.
|With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As whom pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.
|And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold;
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
And through the drifts the snowy cliffs
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken –
The ice was all between.
|The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!
At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.
That’s a great image, the Albatross – put a capital on that too, a Christian soul you say, Albatross means ‘white bird’, a perennial symbol of the pure soul. You know the Albatross only ventures north to about 30°south, about the same as a nice little spot on an earlier voyage I named Byron Bay. This is the region where the Southern Ether turned landward, heading for a brooding volcanic peak I called Mt. Warning. The very same spot an Albatross, which had been following for weeks, sat on the sea nodding his farewell as we sailed north.
|It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!
And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!
|In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moon-shine.”
“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! –
Why look’st thou so?” – With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.
S.C.: I’ve never understood why you did that?
J.C.: Maybe I did – then again maybe you did, ‘you’ in the collective sense of humanity. It is a symbol of the onslaught of hard-hearted materialism on the human soul. Can’t you put it there that we were the first to cross the Antarctic Circle, getting right down to 70° south – brrr. No? Okay, let’s continue north.
|The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.
And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners’ hollo!
|And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ‘em woe”
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! Said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
Good line that – the Southern Ether manifest in the wind, or ‘breeze’. All the breeze imagery in the poem should express this nourishing Etheric force.
Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.
Ah, the folly of Man with his lack of spiritual discernment, be it on their heads – and it was!
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free:
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent seas.
The Coral Sea – whoo!
|Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be:
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
|All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
We were becalmed in the doldrums, right on the Tropic of Sagittarius in the southern Summer Solstice. Those last lines depict that quite well.
|Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yes, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
|About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green and blue and white.
And some in dreams assured were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so,
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.
S.C.: I’ve put the ‘Spirit’ (with a capital you notice) as commanding the air element, but living in that of the water – ‘nine fathoms deep’. What were those slimy things with legs anyway?
J.C.: I’ve no idea.
|And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more that if
We had been choked with soot.
|Ah! Well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
Ah, The Christian Mystery again, that’s good. I understand you’ve brought Western consciousness from the simple ‘faith’ principle to the Spiritual Soul quest for knowledge. Not ‘Is it true?’, but ‘What does it mean?’ this poem should really clinch it. What? You’re still writing? What about? The Spectre Bark – beauty, get on with it then.
|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 thorough a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.
Describe the Life-in-Death Woman – I still shudder at the memory.
|Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The nightmare 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 specter-bark.
S.C.: What was that all about?!
J.C.: Let’s just say it was a divine judgement of my hopelessly inadequate, and now naked, soul, by that great Solsticial Supreme Court. I was judged, like all men, and found wanting. Not as much though as the people I saw earlier on Easter Island. What a horror place that was, with those giant Atlantean stone statues presiding over a humanity so degenerate I … well I can’t describe it. Perhaps the fact that there were 700 men on the island, and only 30 women, might give you some idea. Life-in-Death indeed. And to add to it, leprosy was rife – the disease of spiritual corruption! Of course the woman on the Specter Bark had, as you so graphically put it, a face as ‘white as leprosy’. The ‘Specter’ refers to the nature of the vision, it was a light, or Etheric experience. Now get on to the main part.
|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 hoary flakes.
Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam: and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.
|O happy living things! No tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.
The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell ff, and sank
Like lead into the sea.
Samuel you’ve done it! In that moment I learnt to love – make that Love – in the higher sense I mean. In spite of my soul agony, a wave of the purest and deepest veneration swept my soul when I saw those marvelous creatures trailing streams of phosphorescent glory on that tropic, moonlit night. Only the pure heart, one of Love, can conquer the death forces of the intellect. Those ‘snakes’ were eels really, myriads of them; apparently they migrate to the reefs of the Coral Sea from all the rivers and creeks of Terra Australis delEspiritu Santo …
S.C. Nice name for the place that, Portuguese isn’t it? Meaning, um, South Land of the Holy Spirit. Better than some of the other names for Down Under (that’s a good one), like New South Wales, or Van Diemen’s Land – sorry, go on please.
J.C.: The ‘Holy Spirit’ …
S.C.: Then there’s New Holland; Terra Nullius, what a joke, ha, ha …
J.C.: Thank you! Anyway the ‘Holy Spirit’ is the Southern Ether, that which voicelessly calls the eels forth which, having reached the age of seven years …
S.C.: What else?!
J.C.: Steam out and congregate in giant schools – from fresh to salt water – pretty amazing eh? Here they lay their eggs along the reefs in the arm, shallow water – and then they die! In so doing, they commit their life forces to the Etheric mantle of the earth. It was this sacrificial – this unbelievable sublime – gift, that I witnessed – on both a physical, and in its higher form, a psychic level. I’d say we were about 145° east longitude, and in latitude, right on the Tropic of Sagittarius.
S.C.: Eels eh? They are one of the most pure and emphatic faunal statements of Etheric life, with their sinuous movement and seeming indestructibility. Eels from the countries bordering the North Atlantic do a similar thing, except they lay their eggs in the vast and sun-drenched floating rafts of seaweed in the Sargasso Sea – hand on? The epicenter of this relic of sunken Atlantis is on the Tropic of Cancer – sorry, er, Gemini – and let’s look at the globe – yes, follow longitude 145° up and over the Arctic and it comes straight through the Sargasso Sea. That’s exactly the other side of the world from the Coral Sea! Do these two points form the Life Axis of the planet? A plant/animal dichotomy? James, you’re beginning to fade, I’d better get on.
J.C. Don’t forget the Celestial Music, that was grand.
|For when it dawned – they dropped their arms,
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.
Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the Sun;
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.
|Sometimes a dropping from the sky
I heard the skylark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are,
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!
And now ‘twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel’s song,
That makes the heavens be mute.
This was a powerful experience for me, being a Maritime, or Imagination Initiate, my spiritual journeys are usually of an Astral, or clairvoyant (meaning ‘clear vision’) nature – but this was a Sun, or Etheric Mystery, expressing as Clairaudience – the Choirs of Angels indeed! Okay, let’s go home – I can’t wait to get to the Seraphim bit.
|Swiftly, swiftly few the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too;
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze –
On me alone it blew.
|Oh! Dream of joy! Is this indeed
The lighthouse top I see?
Is this the hill? Is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree?
It was good to get home, but I knew I’d have the dickens of a job convincing Mrs. Cook that I’d been a good boy on some of those South Pacific Isles of Temptation. But just as I thought I could get back to normal again, I had one of the highest visions an ‘Ancient Mariner’ could ever hope to experience.
|And the bay was white with silent light
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colors came.
A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were:
I turned my eyes upon the deck –
Oh, Christ! What saw I there!
Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the holy rood!
A man all light, a seraph-man,
On every corset her stood.
|This seraph-band, each waved his hand;
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lively light;
This seraph-band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart –
No voice; but oh! The silence sank
Like music on my heart.
A vision of the Seraphim, highest of the Nine Choirs of Angels – the Spirits of Love themselves – ah, ‘crimson shadows’, how I yearn to behold you again. Hurry it up Samuel, I’ve got to go soon – egad! I’m beginning to disappear! Get on with Part 7 – that of Spirit Man.
|Farewell,, farewell! But his I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
|The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned form the bridegroom’s door.
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.
S.C.: Whew! That’s it I think – Cook? James where are you? What do you think of this line ‘He prayeth best who loveth best, all things both great and small’. James? Gosh, it’s the 14th February, St. Valentines’ Day – three years exactly since you died on that blood-stained Hawaiian beach. St. Valentine? Patron Saint of Love?! James where are you – what does this mean?
“Language most shows a ma: speak that I may see thee.” Ben Johnson
O TERERA AUSTRALIS…
Oh, Terra Australis –
What can be over your ranges,
Beyond your Great Divide?
Your backbone carved from the ages –
What secrets do you hide?
An inland sea like a rainbow dream?
Or whirling wind wings that are felt but not seen?
Are there fierce fires fast burning – or slow?
Or icicles, mist and storm-driven snow?
The wandering fire folk dreamed your dreams;
The paler hands with steel and steam,
Darkened your skies, poisoned your streams.
Fair Paradise abused in silent screams.
But Paradise may burgeon still,
Beyond your endless lines of hills
That stand like silent sentinels.
The Southern Cross speaks out your name,
The yielding earth your fiery will.
Terra Australis awake with me,
Thank you for sharing my destiny.