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Cruelty To Living Things

( Originally Published 1902 )



ONE of the most marvelous creations of Coleridge's genius is his poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It is one of the most fantastic nd grotesque poems in the English language. It is almost hideous in its weirdness, and yet contains a most helpful moral lesson. The wedding guest is going to the feast, when he is stopped by an ancient mariner. He unloosed the skinny hand that held him, but the mariner held him with his glittering eye, and the guest listens as passively as a three years' child. Then the mariner recited the tale ; how his ship was chased by the winds and waves into the South Sea, followed by an albatross, a bird of good omen. In an unlucky moment the mariner with his crossbow shot the albatross. The whole universe seemed to sicken at this unnecessary act of cruelty. The wind died down.

" 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,
And not a drop to drink."

The tongues of the sailors were so parched they could not speak; they merely cast evil looks at the mariner that had caused this woe. Suddenly there appeared in the distance a sail, but it was only a phantom ship, and in despair the sailors, without a sigh or groan, fell lifeless to the deck. The ancient mariner alone was left. In his utter loneliness he tried to pray, but a wicked whisper hushed the thought. For seven days and nights the eyes of the dead men gazed at him and yet he could not die. He watched the water snakes coiling and swimming about the ship.

" 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 off, and sank
Like lead into the sea."

That love and the prayer following occasioned a change in his fortune. He falls asleep, and while he sleeps a refreshing rain falls. The lifeless men arise and man the ropes, and the ship passes from the Southern Sea.

" Farewell, farewell ! but this I tell
To thee, thou wedding guest !
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best who lovest best
All things both great and small ;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."

Cruelty has in it the seeds of death. Love is life, is life eternal. The dead mariners that lie on the decks of the ship of Zion can be brought to life by love.



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