He says he’s been around
the globe three times now
but has yet to find a
shore white enough to
send him sailing home

— but how can that be?
He’s been gone for centuries
now; the markers of his
children’s graves are blank
as driftglass smoothed
in eternity’s gray tide.

Look at the rigging of his
ship — rotted through
and hanging loose like
some vulture’s leavings,
the sails torn in ten
thousand thready rents.

We are sure something else
carries his ship here to
this paper port which
never existed until today.

His features are worn
but stilled, sunburnt
and wrinkled, yes, but
of an age and temper
which has passed beyond
time. And the eyes:

gray-blue and minted
of a lunar dazzle on polar
seas, eyes which have seen
all the way down into
abyss and found there
another set of eyes
staring calmly back,
eyes not human nor of
any living thing found
beneath the waterline.

A look fished from the
millionth crashing wave
or the last harrowing shore,
who knows? He’s always
been there on the crashing
marge, standing rooted
at top-deck, those eyes
fixed on horizons every
boat one day must pierce
as it dashed down to hell.

On he sails, and on and on,
past the shoals of this
little island poem,
waving at me as I wave
back. No verses I write
today can turn that mariner
toward home, but that is
just the point:

something always must
sail on and on
to meet the salt beyond
of every next blank page
with wave-lapping sounds.

He sails on, you see,
or I go down to
where lost anchors crown
the drifting silent drowned.



Illustrations by Gustave Dore for Coleridge’s “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.”


Filed under Oran, The Sea, Voyagers

6 responses to “Mariner

  1. hedgewitch

    I can’t think of a much higher compliment than to say the words match those other-worldly illustrations of Dore’s like they were made for each other (if that was partially your intent, count it achieved.) The soul sails on, pulling us behind her, through waters we might wish to avoid, or can’t know, yet still we follow, hands clamped across our eyes in terror and stubborn reluctance, yet peeking through the cracks just in case we might see wonders and magically latch on to a few. Or perhaps it’s the Muse with her siren sweet voice sailing there ahead, cleverly disguised in that long white beard–whichever, I’m glad to have a ticket on this ferry, even if the boatmen is named Charon. I was about to pick out some favorite lines, but yeesh! The whole of the last three stanzas, plus the whole of the first four is too big too quote, and the rest won’t let me play favorites. Thanks for the ride onward on the noctilucent waves of song, Brendan. As that great philosopher Sonny Bono once said, ‘The beat goes on.’ Or should that be beach? ;_)

    PS–typo in stanza six? ‘has’ =’have’

    • Thanks H – Reading “Rime” a few years back (when this poem was written) in an edition with Dore’s illustrations was rather hallucinatory. I was also reading lots other voyage-tales, from “Moby Dick” to “The Voyage of St. Brendan” and numerous accounts of voyages braving the likes of Cape Horn, perhaps the absolute worst place on earth. According to archeologists, there are some 2 million shipwrecks down there — that’s a lot of loot in Davy Jones’ locker — a fertile underground with all that wet element to boot. Even my St. Oran got into the act, sailing (in one tale) to the Land of the North while he was rotting those three nights in the footers of the Iona abbey. His proclamation, “The way you think it is is not the way it is at all,” comes from that voyage, which means its a good thing some part of us is still out there, up in the crow’s nest, scanning the horizon for the next, er, poem. Dore apparently loved gigantic scale and limitless space, and “Rime” was a late effort by him, perhaps as he was beginning to stare into his own abyss. Hell, he’d already illustrated Dante’s Hell, Miltion’s Chaos and the Bible to boot. He died a few years later at the age of 51. The beat went on. – B

  2. I adore the paper port that didn’t exist until today, the little island poem, and the entire last stanza is breathtaking. Transporting write, Brendan.

  3. once you’ve been long alone on a wide wide sea, and stared your eyes empty on water you cannot drink, any port is only home for a day…i like it that you set yourself large tasks, and accomplish much

  4. ruthie822

    Of course the mariner and the poet met, with Dore to illustrate! I do not personally feel the lure of the sea, as in being on it, but I feel the lure to its edge, its call while my feet are firmly planted on sand. To dive into that mystery on ship or paper is that neverending sort of call and desire to finally be beached! Extraordinary how it gets a hold on you, and others, and doesn’t get satiated. Sail on, friend, and dive and write the dazzle and salt.

  5. Littleskew

    I have to agree with the first comment posted by ‘hedgewitch’ the words seem as if they were created with the images. Amazing🙂

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