Recorded in Netley, Hampshire
Enrique Martínez Celaya
Oil and wax on canvas
The harbour-bay was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was strewn!
And on the bay the moonlight lay,
And the shadow of the Moon.
The rock shone bright, the kirk no less,
That stands above the rock:
The moonlight steeped in silentness
The steady weathercock.
And the bay was white with silent light,
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colours came.
A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were:
I turned my eyes upon the deck—
Oh, Christ! what saw I there!
Coleridge wrote at a time when European debate focused on the ‘natural law' in terms of the rights of men and nations freely to navigate and to fish the world’s seas. In 'The Rime', the ocean is ruled by a more archaic, more authoritative ‘law of nature’. The crime at the centre of the ballad is against animal life; the weather metes out punishment; and redemption only begins when the Mariner appreciates the beauty of radically nonhuman creatures.
As I hear it now, the most insistent question of the ballad is: how will the laws of nature help us agree a natural law for humanity? I'm struck by the way Coleridge’s image of death-fires joins today’s devastating fires in Australia and their scientific link to the disruption of the natural order of the Indian Ocean. The poetics of natural law in ‘The Rime’ take on a new urgency.