Lyrical Ballads, with other poems, by William Wordsworth

The Ancient Mariner

A Poet’s Reverie.

How a Ship, having first sailed to the Equator, was driven by Storms, to the cold Country towards the South Pole; how the Ancient Mariner cruelly, and in contempt of the laws of hospitality, killed a Sea-bird; and how he was followed by many and strange Judgements; and in what manner he came back to his own Country.


It is an ancient Mariner,

  And he stoppeth one of three:

“By thy long grey beard and thy glittering eye

  Now wherefore stoppest me?”

“The Bridegroom’s doors are open’d wide

  And I am next of kin;

The Guests are met, the Feast is set —

  May’st hear the merry din.”

But still he holds the wedding guest —

  “There was a Ship, quoth he —”

“Nay, if thou’st got a laughsome tale,

  Mariner! come with me.”

He holds him with his skinny hand,

  Quoth he, there was a Ship —

“Now get thee hence, thou grey-beard Loon

  Or my Staff shall make thee skip.”

He holds him with his glittering eye —

  The wedding guest stood still

And listens like a three year’s child;

  The Mariner hath his will.

The wedding-guest sate on a stone,

  He cannot chuse but hear:

And thus spake on that ancient man,

  The bright-eyed Mariner.

The Ship was cheer’d, the Harbour clear’d —

  Merrily did we drop

Below the Kirk, below the Hill,

  Below the Light-house top.

The Sun came up upon the left,

  Out of the Sea came he:

And he shone bright, and on the right

  Went down into the Sea.

Higher and higher every day,

  Till over the mast at noon —

The wedding-guest here beat his breast,

  For he heard the loud bassoon.

The Bride hath pac’d into the Hall,

  Red as a rose is she;

Nodding their heads before her goes

  The merry Minstralsy.

The wedding-guest he beat his breast,

  Yet he cannot chuse but hear:

And thus spake on that ancient Man,

  The bright-eyed Mariner.

But now the Northwind came more fierce,

  There came a Tempest strong!

And Southward still for days and weeks

  Like Chaff we drove along.

And now there came both Mist and Snow,

  And it grew wond’rous cold;

And Ice mast-high came floating by

  As green as Emerald.

And thro’ the drifts the snowy clifts

  Did send a dismal sheen;

Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken —

  The Ice was all between.

The Ice was here, the Ice was there,

  The Ice was all around:

It crack’d and growl’d, and roar’d and howl’d —

  A wild and ceaseless sound.

At length did cross an Albatross,

  Thorough the Fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian Soul,

  We hail’d it in God’s name.

The Mariners gave it biscuit-worms,

  And round and round it flew:

The Ice did split with a Thunder-fit;

  The Helmsman steer’d us thro’.

And a good south wind sprung up behind.

  The Albatross did follow;

And every day for food or play

  Came to the Mariner’s hollo!

In mist or cloud on mast or shroud

  It perch’d for vespers nine,

Whiles all the night thro’ fog-smoke white

  Glimmer’d the white moon-shine.

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!

  From the fiends that plague thee thus —”

“Why look’st thou so? — with my cross bow

  I shot the Albatross.”


The Sun now rose upon the right,

  Out of the Sea came he;

Still hid in mist; and on the left

  Went down into the Sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,

  But no sweet Bird did follow

Nor any day for food or play

  Came to the Mariner’s hollo!

And I had done an hellish thing

  And it would work e’m woe:

For all averr’d, I had kill’d the Bird

  That made the Breeze to blow.

Nor dim nor red, like an Angel’s head,

  The glorious Sun uprist:

Then all averr’d, I had kill’d the Bird

  That brought the fog and mist.

’Twas right, said they, such birds to slay

  That bring the fog and mist.

The breezes blew, the white foam flew,

  The furrow follow’d 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.

All in a hot and copper sky

  The bloody sun at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

  No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day,

  We stuck, nor breath nor motion,

As idle as a painted Ship

  Upon a painted Ocean.

Water, water, every where

  And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

  Nor any drop to drink.

The very deeps did rot: O Christ!

  That ever this should be!

Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs

  Upon the slimy Sea.

About, about, in reel and rout

  The Death-fires danc’d at night;

The water, like a witch’s oils.

  Burnt green and blue and white.

And some in dreams assured were

  Of the Spirit that plagued us so:

Nine fathom deep he had follow’d us

  From the Land of Mist and Snow.

And every tongue thro’ utter drouth

  Was wither’d at the root;

We could not speak no more than if

  We had been choked with soot.

Ah wel-a-day! what evil looks

  Had I from old and young;

Instead of the Cross the Albatross

  About my neck was hung.


So past a weary time; each throat

  Was parch’d, and glaz’d each eye,

When, looking westward, I beheld

  A something in the sky.

At first it seem’d a little speck

  And then it seem’d a mist:

It mov’d and mov’d, and took at last

  A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!

  And still it near’d and near’d;

And, as if it dodg’d a water-sprite,

  It plung’d and tack’d and veer’d.

With throat unslack’d, with black lips bak’d

  We could nor laugh nor wail;

Thro’ utter drouth all dumb we stood

Till I bit my arm and suck’d the blood,

  And cry’d, A sail! a sail!

With throat unslack’d, with black lips bak’d

  Agape they heard me call:

Gramercy! they for joy did grin

And all at once their breath drew in

  As they were drinking all.

See! See! (I cry’d) she tacks no more!

  Hither to work us weal

Without a breeze, without a tide

  She steddies with upright keel!

The western wave was all a flame,

  The day was well nigh done!

Almost upon the western wave

  Rested the broad bright Sun;

When that strange shape drove suddenly

  Betwixt us and the Sun.

And strait the Sun was fleck’d with bars

  (Heaven’s mother send us grace)

As if thro’ a dungeon grate he peer’d

  With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)

  How fast she nears and nears!

Are those her Sails that glance in the Sun

  Like restless gossameres?

Are those her Ribs, thro’ which the Sun

  Did peer, as thro’ a grate?

And are those two all, all her crew.

  That Woman, and her Mate?

His bones were black with many a crack,

  All black and bare, I ween;

Jet-black and bare, save where with rust

Of mouldy damps and charnel crust

  They were patch’d with purple and green.

Her lips were red, her looks were free,

  Her locks were yellow as gold:

Her skin was as white as leprosy,

And she was far liker Death than he;

  Her flesh made the still air cold.

The naked Hulk alongside came

  And the Twain were playing dice;

“The Game is done! I’ve won, I’ve won!”

  Quoth she, and whistled thrice.

A gust of wind sterte up behind

  And whistled thro’ his bones;

Thro’ the holes of his eyes and the hole of his mouth

  Half-whistles and half-groans.

With never a whisper in the Sea

  Off darts the Spectre-ship;

While clombe above the Eastern bar

The horned Moon, with one bright Star

  Almost between the tips.

One after one by the horned Moon

  (Listen, O Stranger! to me)

Each turn’d his face with a ghastly pang

  And curs’d me with his ee.

Four times fifty living men,

  With never a sigh or groan,

With heavy thump, a lifeless lump

  They dropp’d down one by one.

Their souls did from their bodies fly —

  They fled to bliss or woe;

And every soul it pass’d me by,

  Like, the whiz of my Cross-bow.


“I fear thee, ancient Mariner!

  I fear thy skinny hand;

And thou art long and lank and brown

  As is the ribb’d Sea-sand.”

“I fear thee and thy glittering eye

  And thy skinny hand so brown —”

“Fear not, fear not, thou wedding guest!

  This body dropt not down.”

Alone, alone, all all alone

  Alone on the wide wide Sea;

And Christ would take no pity on

  My soul in agony.

The many men so beautiful,

  And they all dead did lie!

And a million million slimy things

  Liv’d on — and so did I.

I look’d upon the rotting Sea,

  And drew my eyes away;

I look’d upon the ghastly deck,

  And there the dead men lay.

I look’d to Heaven, and try’d to pray;

  But or ever a prayer had gusht,

A wicked whisper came and made

  My heart as dry as dust.

I clos’d my lids and kept them close,

  Till the balls like pulses beat;

For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky

Lay like a load on my weary eye,

  And the dead were at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,

  Nor rot, nor reek did they;

The look with which they look’d on me,

  Had never pass’d away.

An orphan’s curse would drag to Hell

  A spirit from on high:

But O! more horrible than that

  Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!

Seven days, seven nights I saw that curse,

  And yet I could not die.

The moving Moon went up the sky

  And no where did abide:

Softly she was going up

  And a star or two beside —

Her beams bemock’d the sultry main

  Like April hoar-frost spread;

But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,

The charmed water burnt alway

  A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship

  I watch’d the water-snakes:

They mov’d in tracks of shining white;

And when they rear’d, the elfish light

  Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship

  I watch’d their rich attire:

Blue, glossy green, and velvet black

They coil’d and swam; and every track

  Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! no tongue

  Their beauty might declare:

A spring of love gusht from my heart,

  And I bless’d them unaware!

Sure my kind saint took pity on me,

  And I bless’d them unaware.

The self-same moment I could pray;

  And from my neck so free

The Albatross fell off, and sank

  Like lead into the sea.


O sleep, it is a gentle thing

  Belov’d from pole to pole!

To Mary-queen the praise be given

She sent the gentle sleep from heaven

  That slid into my soul.

The silly buckets on the deck

  That had so long remain’d,

I dreamt that they were fill’d with dew

  And when I awoke it rain’d.

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,

  My garments all were dank;

Sure I had drunken in my dreams

  And still my body drank.

I mov’d and could not feel my limbs,

  I was so light, almost

I thought that I had died in sleep,

  And was a blessed Ghost.

And soon I heard a roaring wind,

  It did not come anear;

But with its sound it shook the sails

  That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life

  And a hundred fire-flags sheen

To and fro they were hurried about;

And to and fro, and in and out

  The wan stars danc’d between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud;

  And the sails did sigh like sedge:

And the rain pour’d down from one black cloud

  The moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still

  The Moon was at its side:

Like waters shot from some high crag,

The lightning fell, with never a jag

  A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reach’d the Ship,

  Yet now the Ship mov’d on!

Beneath the lightning and the moon

  The dead men gave a groan.

They groan’d; they stirr’d, they all uprose,

  Nor spake, nor mov’d their eyes:

It had been strange, even in a dream

  To have seen those dead men rise,

The helmsman steerd, the ship mov’d on;

  Yet never a breeze up-blew;

The Mariners all gan work the ropes,

  Where they were wont to do:

They rais’d their limbs like lifeless tools —

  We were a ghastly crew.

The body of my brother’s son

  Stood by me knee to knee:

The body and I pull’d at one rope,

  But he said nought to me.

“I fear thee, ancient Mariner!”

  “Be calm, thou wedding guest!

’Twas not those souls, that fled in pain,

Which to their corses came again,

  But a troop of Spirits blest:”

“For when it dawn’d — they dropp’d their arms,

  And cluster’d round the mast:

Sweet sounds rose slowly thro’ their mouths

  And from their bodies pass’d.”

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,

  Then darted to the sun:

Slowly the sounds came back again

  Now mix’d, now one by one.

Sometimes a dropping from the sky

  I heard the Sky-lark sing;

Sometimes all little birds that are

How they seem’d to fill the sea and air

  With their sweet jargoning.

And now ’twas like all instruments,

  Now like a lonely flute;

And now it is an angel’s song

  That makes the heavens be mute.

It ceas’d: yet still the sails made on

  A pleasant noise till noon,

A noise like of a hidden brook

  In the leafy month of June,

That to the sleeping woods all night,

  Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we silently sail’d on

  Yet never a breeze did breathe:

Slowly and smoothly went the Ship

  Mov’d onward from beneath.

Under the keel nine fathom deep

  From the land of mist and snow

The spirit slid: and it was He

  That made the Ship to go.

The sails at noon left off their tune

  And the Ship stood still also.

The sun right up above the mast

  Had fix’d her to the ocean:

But in a minute she ‘gan stir

  With a short uneasy motion —

Backwards and forwards half her length

  With a short uneasy motion.

Then, like a pawing horse let go,

  She made a sudden bound:

It flung the blood into my head,

  And I fell into a swound.

How long in that same fit I lay,

  I have not to declare;

But ere my living life return’d,

I heard and in my soul discern’d

  Two voices in the air.

“Is it he?” quoth one, “Is this the man?

  By him who died on cross,

With his cruel bow he lay’d full low

  The harmless Albatross.”

“The spirit who ‘bideth by himself

  In the land of mist and snow,

He lov’d the bird that lov’d the man

  Who shot him with his bow.”

The other was a softer voice,

  As soft as honey-dew:

Quoth he the man hath penance done,

  And penance more will do.



“But tell me, tell me! speak again,

  Thy soft response renewing —

What makes that ship drive on so fast?

  What is the Ocean doing?”


“Still as a Slave before his Lord,

  The Ocean hath no blast:

His great bright eye most silently

  Up to the moon is cast —”

“If he may know which way to go,

  For she guides him smooth or grim,

See, brother, see! how graciously

  She looketh down on him.”


“But why drives on that ship so fast

  Without or wave or wind?”


“The air is cut away before,

  And closes from behind.”

“Fly, brother, fly! more high, more high,

  Or we shall be belated:

For slow and slow that ship will go,

  When the Mariner’s trance is abated.”

I woke, and we were sailing on

  As in a gentle weather:

’Twas night, calm night, the moon was high;

  The dead men stood together.

All stood together on the deck,

  For a charnel-dungeon fitter:

All fix’d on me their stony eyes

  That in the moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they died,

  Had never pass’d away;

I could not draw my eyes from theirs

  Nor turn them up to pray.

And now this spell was snapt: once more

  I view’d the ocean green,

And look’d far forth, yet little saw

  Of what had else been seen.

Like one, that on a lonesome road

  Doth walk in fear and dread,

And having once turn’d round, walks on

  And turns no more his head:

Because he knows, a frightful fiend

  Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breath’d a wind on me,

  Nor sound nor motion made:

Its path was not upon the sea

  In ripple or in shade.

It rais’d my hair, it fann’d my cheek,

  Like a meadow-gale of spring —

It mingled strangely with my fears,

  Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship

  Yet she sail’d softly too:

Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze —

  On me alone it blew.

O dream of joy! is this indeed

  The light-house top I see?

Is this the Hill? Is this the Kirk?

  Is this mine own countrée?

We drifted o’er the Harbour-bar,

  And I with sobs did pray —

“O let me be awake, my God!

  Or let me sleep alway!”

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 steep’d 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 turn’d my eyes upon the deck —

  O Christ! what saw I there?

Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat;

  And by the Holy rood

A man all light, a seraph-man,

  On every corse there stood.

This seraph-band, each wav’d his hand:

  It was a heavenly sight:

They stood as signals to the land,

  Each one a lovely light:

This seraph-band, each wav’d his hand,

  No voice did they impart —

No voice; but O! the silence sank,

  Like music on my heart.

But soon I heard the dash of oars,

  I heard the pilot’s cheer:

My head was turn’d perforce away

  And I saw a boat appear.

The pilot, and the pilot’s boy

  I heard them coming fast:

Dear Lord in Heaven! it was a joy,

  The dead men could not blast.

I saw a third — I heard his voice:

  It is the Hermit good!

He singeth loud his godly hymns

  That he makes in the wood.

He’ll shrive my soul, he’ll wash away

  The Albatross’s blood.


This Hermit good lives in that wood

  Which slopes down to the Sea.

How loudly his sweet voice he rears!

He loves to talk with Mariners

  That come from a far countrée.

He kneels at morn and noon and eve —

  He hath a cushion plump:

It is the moss, that wholly hides

  The rotted old Oak-stump.

The Skiff-boat ner’d: I heard them talk,

  “Why, this is strange, I trow!

Where are those lights so many and fair

  That signal made but now?”

“Strange, by my faith!” the Hermit said —

  “And they answer’d not our cheer.

The planks look warp’d, and see those sails

  How thin they are and sere!

I never saw aught like to them

  Unless perchance it were”

“The skeletons of leaves that lag

  My forest brook along:

When the Ivy-tod is heavy with snow,

And the Owlet whoops to the wolf below

  That eats the she-wolf’s young.”

“Dear Lord! it has a fiendish look —”

  (The Pilot made reply)

“I am a-fear’d.”—“Push on, push on!”

  “Said the Hermit cheerily.”

The Boat came closer to the Ship,

  But I nor spake nor stirr’d!

The Boat came close beneath the Ship,

  And strait a sound was heard!

Under the water it rumbled on,

  Still louder and more dread:

It reach’d the Ship, it split the bay;

  The Ship went down like lead.

Stunn’d by that loud and dreadful sound,

  Which sky and ocean smote:

Like one that hath been seven days drown’d

  My body lay afloat:

But, swift as dreams, myself I found

  Within the Pilot’s boat.

Upon the whirl, where sank the Ship,

  The boat spun round and round:

And all was still, save that the hill

  Was telling of the sound.

I mov’d my lips: the Pilot shriek’d

  And fell down in a fit.

The Holy Hermit rais’d his eyes

  And pray’d where he did sit.

I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy,

  Who now doth crazy go,

Laugh’d loud and long, and all the while

  His eyes went to and fro,

“Ha! ha!” quoth he —“full plain I see,

  The devil knows how to row.”

And now all in mine own Countrée

  I stood on the firm land!

The Hermit stepp’d forth from the boat,

  And scarcely he could stand.

“O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy Man!”

  The Hermit cross’d his brow —

“Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say

  What manner man art thou?”

Forthwith this frame of mind was wrench’d

  With a woeful agony,

Which forc’d me to begin my tale

  And then it left me free.

Since then at an uncertain hour,

  That agency returns;

And till my ghastly tale is told

  This heart within me burns.

I pass, like night, from land to land;

  I have strange power of speech;

The moment that his face I see

I know the man that must hear me;

  To him my tale I teach.

What loud uproar bursts from that door!

  The Wedding-guests are there;

But in the Garden-bower the Bride

  And Bride-maids singing are:

And hark the little Vesper-bell

  Which biddeth me to prayer.

O Wedding-guest! this soul hath been

  Alone on a wide wide sea:

So lonely ’twas, that God himself

  Scarce seemed there to be.

O sweeter than the Marriage-feast,

  ’Tis sweeter far to me

To walk together to the Kirk

  With a goodly company.

To walk together to the Kirk

  And all together pray,

While each to his great father bends,

Old men, and babes, and loving friends,

  And Youths, and Maidens gay.

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell

  To thee, thou wedding-guest!

He prayeth well who loveth well

  Both man, and bird and beast.

He prayeth best who loveth best

  All things both great and small:

For the dear God, who loveth us,

  He made and loveth all.

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,

  Whose beard with age is hoar,

Is gone; and now the wedding-guest

  Turn’d from the bridegroom’s door.

He went, like one that hath been stunn’d

  And is of sense forlorn:

A sadder and a wiser man

  He rose the morrow morn,

NOTE to the ANCIENT MARINER, p. 155. — I cannot refuse myself the gratification of informing such Readers as may have been pleased with this Poem, or with any part of it, that they owe their pleasure in some sort to me; as the Author was himself very desirous that it should be suppressed. This wish had arisen from a consciousness of the defects of the Poem, and from a knowledge that many persons had been much displeased with it. The Poem of my Friend has indeed great defects; first, that the principal person has no distinct character, either in his profession of Mariner, or as a human being who having been long under the controul of supernatural impressions might be supposed himself to partake of something supernatural: secondly, that he does not act, but is continually acted upon: thirdly, that the events having no necessary connection do not produce each other; and lastly, that the imagery is somewhat too laboriously accumulated. Yet the Poem contains many delicate touches of passion, and indeed the passion is every where true to nature; a great number of the stanzas present beautiful images, and are expressed with unusual felicity of language; and the versification, though the metre is itself unfit for long poems, is harmonious and artfully varied, exhibiting the utmost powers of that metre, and every variety of which it is capable. It therefore appeared to me that these several merits (the first of which, namely that of the passion, is of the highest kind,) gave to the Poem a value which is not often possessed by better Poems. On this account I requested of my Friend to permit me to republish it.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02