Mariner: the breakout from stasis

Behind the power of the curse in the dead men's eyes, therefore, the real ultimate horror is stasis. The proper condition of man's being is movement and progression. Coleridge's own sense of this may be seen in his account of thought, that "As by a billow we mean no more than a particular movement of the sea, so neither by a thought can we mean more than the mind thinking in some one direction" (Coleridge). But the Mariner's thoughts, like his ship, are stuck on a moveless sea, without billows or direction. The hopeless passivity of such a state was touched on in some of Coleridge's worst nightmares: a description he wrote on the voyage to Malta provides a remarkable gloss on the state of Life-in-Death. In his "Dreams of Despair,"

the sense of individual Existence is full & lively only [for one] to feel oneself powerless, crushed in by every power -- a stifled boding, one abject miserable Wretch / yet hopeless, yet struggling, removed from all touch of Life, deprived of all notion of Death / strange mixture of Fear and Despair -- & that passio purissima, that mere Passiveness with pain (the essence of which is perhaps Passivity). (NB.ii.2078)

From this state of fixation the Mariner looks up to the moon, and here he sees an image of movement which will eventually unlock the frozen sources of his own progressiveness: "The moving Moon went up the sky, / And no where did abide" (263-4). The gloss to this verse also speaks of "the journeying Moon, and the stars that still sojourn, yet still move onward." In blessing the water-snakes the Mariner is able to break out partially from the stasis of his death-immersion. The Mariner is then able to sleep, it rains, and the ship eventually moves on. But in the manner of its movement, and in the strange sights and sounds which fill the air, it is evident how incomplete is the Mariner's recovery; he is still isolated within the strange universe to which Life-in-Death condemned him, even if he is now moving towards home. His confused identification of the sounds he hears with skylark song, or the noise of a brook "In the leafy month of June" (370), only renders more poignant the extent of his isolation by comparison with what he has lost.

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