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After The Rime

October 2, 2021

A week after the event, some of us met on Zoom today to review the first post-lockdown meeting of Bath Writers and Artists in Widcombe Social Club, and to think about our future direction.

It had been good, and energising, to be physically together again. We all loved the venue – the big rooms full of light, the balcony with its view of tranquil water, the endlessly helpful staff, and the buffet lunch.

The morning writing workshop was sensitively chaired by Graeme, and participants have said how useful they found it.    

The very brief rehearsal of The Rime was an object-lesson in how to coax surprisingly good results from non-performers and improved results from seasoned performers. Our official understudy stepped into the space left by one who was at short notice unable to come. The performance itself was far from perfect; how could it be? But I hope we were convincing, and I certainly enjoyed taking part. All twelve of us will be better performers for having done it, thanks to Graeme. He is an inspirational drama coach. It was great to have a few spare minutes for a Q&A afterwards. We learned that The Rime had started life as a collaboration between Coleridge and Wordsworth. William wrote one line, scrapped it and left the job to Samuel. Coleridge revised the text many times over the years.

The two-part concert followed. We began with June’s intriguing appetiser from her newly published novel Foolish Heroines. The journey continued from seashore and shallows to the awe-inspiring deep. Graeme slipped seamlessly into another gap, in the reading of Eileen’s pamphlet Growl Purr Hiss Spit, about the illegal destruction of coral reefs. Verona, rising to the challenge of a lost script, delivered a riveting piece of storytelling. I have seldom seen such a spellbound audience. The performance of a 20th century sea-shanty, with Lagerphone accompaniment, rounded off the concert rousingly.

Illustrated by GustaveDore, and Mervyn Peake

The version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that we performed last week was pruned by me to give a running time of 25 minutes and to omit the more sentimental or repetitive passages. For no particular reason I have continued the pruning, revealing four sonnet-like poems hidden in The Rime’s more than 600 lines. My rule is to use words or part-words in the same order in which they occur in the original. On this occasion I abandoned my other rule of erasure, which is that it should tell a different story from that in the original.

There was a Ship
(an erasure of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
)

1.

It is the bride; and next, the guests, the feast.
There was a ship. His hand, his glittering eye!
His skinny hand! The sun came up, went down.
The loud bassoon! The merry minstrelsy!

But hear that ancient man: The storm-blast came.
Pursued with yell and blow, southward we fled.
At length – an albatross! A good south wind.
The albatross every day in mist or cloud…


Fiends that plague! I shot the albatross!
The sun now rose in mist, the glorious sun,
the bloody sun, day after day. The rot!
Slimy things crawl on slimy sea, and some
in dreams were plagued. We could not speak. We choked.
The albatross about my neck was hung.


2.

A weary time. A something in the sky.
A speck – a mist – a shape – a water-sprite!
Unslaked we stood and cried, A sail! A sail!
Hither without a breeze, without a tide,

that strange shape drove. How fast she nears and nears!
And is that Woman? Is that Death? The night-
mare Life-in-Death? “The game is done! I’ve won!”
Fear at my heart. The steersman’s face gleamed white.

Each turned and cursed me. Four times fifty men,
heavy, lifeless, dropped down one by one.
“I fear thee!” Fear not, Wedding Guest. Alone
my soul lived on. I looked, and tried to pray.
The dead were at my feet; I could not die.
The water-snakes I blessed. And I could pray.

3.

I dreamed: I thought I was a blessèd ghost.
The rain! The lightning! The loud wind! The dead
men groaned. They stirred. A ghastly crew!
“I fear
thee, Mariner!” Be calm. Those souls that fled

came again a troop of spirits blest.
I heard an angel’s song. We quietly moved
onward. I heard voices in the air:
“The Spirit himself loved the bird that loved

the man who shot him.” O his great bright eye!
Calm night. Moon. The dead men stood on deck.
Their stony eyes! The curse! I could not pray.
The frightful fiend breathed on me. See: the kirk!
Is this my country? Let me sleep alway!
Crimson colours! Crimson on the deck!


4.

I heard oars. I heard the pilot’s cheer.
I saw a boat, the pilot, and the boy.
The hermit I heard talk: ‘Why, this is strange!’
‘A fiendish look,’ the pilot made reply.

The boat came close. The ship went down like lead,
and like one drowned, my body lay afloat.
The hermit prayed. The boy laughed loud and long.
Now the hermit stepped forth from the boat.

‘Shrieve me, holy man!’ ‘Say quick,’ quoth he,
‘what manner of man art thou?’ Which forced me to
begin my tale, and then it left me free.
Since then, that agony returns. I know
the man that must hear me.
The Guest, alone,
is gone from the bridegroom’s door like one forlorn.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Posted by Ama Bolton on 2nd October 2021

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