Recorded in the West Yorkshire Pennines
Photograph, oil + ceramic on aluminium
Nor dim nor red, like God's own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
Coleridge never saw an albatross, alive or dead. Nor, when he first wrote the Rime, had he been to sea. His first time out of sight of land came in 1798 when he sailed from Yarmouth to Cuxhaven. In the black night of his journey, he spotted ‘a single solitary wild duck’ swimming far out and alone. ‘It is not easy to conjecture’, he wrote, ‘how interesting a thing it looked in that round objectless desert of waters.’
Since I went, near where he sailed, to the island of Heligoland in a vain search for a vagrant black-browed albatross, the duck Coleridge saw has come to me to signify both the albatross he conjured and himself conjuring the bird. An idea in white made from dark waters. And, out of sight, how that creature grew in my mind, unseen, and how interesting a thing it looked.