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Kathleen Jamie
Poet + author
Recorded at the University of Stirling

Martin Smick
Dead Air No 35
Acrylic on canvas

And now, all in my own countree,
I stood on the firm land!
The Hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.

'O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!'
The Hermit crossed his brow.
'Say quick,' quoth he, 'I bid thee say—
What manner of man art thou?'

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

Coleridge’s remarkable achievement is that when he was still quite young, he imagined this poem about a voyage—and a life—told by an old man about the young man he was. As the mariner I am becomes older, I struggle to push into my own past. The ancient sailor’s story tells of an innocent youth who feels as if he and his friends are 'the first that ever burst / into that silent sea.' On the ship, he committed one impulsive, destructive act and his friends all fell away, to his lifelong regret.

But in the years of obsessive retellings that follow, his act and its presumed consequences become fetishised guilt, a false resolution, an excess of misdirected moral sentiment thwarting the possibilities of pure imagination. Forever spinning the same yarn, he can never go beyond regret. Nor can we, it seems. Tragically, individuals, leaders, and nations all too often share the mariner’s failure to understand his own history.

Colin Dewey