Poetry Inspiration: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

‘The Albatross is Shot’ by Gustave Doré (1876)

‘The Albatross is Shot’ by Gustave Doré (1876)

Most people have heard of Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but even those who haven’t have at least heard the famous lines:

‘Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.’

The story of this poem follows a mariner who shoots down an albatross after it guides their ship to safety. The crew force the mariner to wear the albatross around his neck as a punishment, but the ship and its crew become lost at sea until, finally, the mariner is the only survivor. He lives to tell his tale and warn others of the consequences of living without compassion:

‘He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.’

I’m not a religious person, but the message behind this poem is just as important today as it ever was: to treat other species with the same love as we treat ourselves. It has been a favourite of mine ever since studying it at university, and I couldn’t help finding inspiration from it for my Forestry England poetry project. The poem is a classic example of the literary ballad, and captures all the elements I wanted to show in my own poem - the narrative arc of emotions, the consequences of living without compassion, and the importance of recognising our connection with other living things.

It’s also a poem you can’t help but read aloud - the rhythm and rhyme is so beautifully arranged, and the moral of the story so important, it’s the kind of piece to read together before a winter fire or in a summer garden over a bottle of cider.

You can read the full 1834 poem here. I also highly recommend The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes - a modern adaptation in graphic novel form that reframes the poem from an environmental perspective.