Recorded in New York City
Forever Always Somewhere
I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.
I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.
A fateful, unfathomable bolt from a crossbow sends the sailors in Coleridge’s epic poem into a terrible, endless ocean-bound purgatory, one that could be straight out of the weird maritime tales of the Edwardian writer William Hope Hodgson, in which becalmed ships encounter ephemeral, rot-imparting islands; or weed-bound hulks besieged by slimy, unnatural crawling things.
The poem’s now-cursed, nameless vessel hopes for salvation in the form of a ship on the horizon, but which turns out to be a spectral Flying Dutchman steered by a skeleton crew – a charnel-crusted Reaper and his even more fearsome female companion. The awful pair gamble for the sailors’ souls in a scene reminiscent of the chess game in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Death is soon visited upon the crew, transformed into phantoms like Hope Hodgson’s Ghost Pirates. And yet, among this unremitting supernatural horror, what haunts the most is that, two centuries on, Coleridge’s warnings remain unheeded.