The Ancient Mariner: the world’s first piece of eco-art

We’re fond here of trying to trace back to who gave us the first warning of our impending ecological catastrophe. Was it Creedence Clearwater Revival? Joni Mitchell? No, it was long, long before. It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 -1834) whose Rime of the Ancient Mariner represents, for us, the first heavee-message eco bit of art; in the western canon at least.

Coleridge was a great poet and author, and a personal disaster with private griefs such as a failed marriage, a major league opiate addiction and endless financial troubles. Yet he’s still important as a founding father of the new Romantic movement of the late eighteenth century. A breath of fresh air in science art and philosophy, it encompassed such luminaries as Wordsworth, Goethe, Beethoven, and David among many others. They disagreed on many things-but all were firm in their admiration for Nature. It was Coleridge who first warned of the terrible dangers of those who wantonly destroy it.

Nature appears in the poem in the shape of a beautiful albatross, who leads a group of sailors out of an Antarctic ice field,and accompanies their ship as guide and mentor. Then, just because he can, the ancient mariner blows it away with one bolt from his crossbow. The rest of the poem relates the troubles which befall the crew as the Powers That Be take vengeance for this swinish act. We won’t spoil it for you, but mass death and anguished remorse are always something to look forward to, particularly if they happen to someone else.

There’s a message here for eco campaigners too: the fickleness of public opinion, as represented by the other crew members. At first they berate him (ah, wretch, they said, the bird to slay/that made the breeze to blow), then change their minds (then all averred I had killed the bird/that brought the fog and mist). Their final opinions, when they realised what he had brought upon them by his act of gratuitous ecocide, we shall leave you to find for yourself, gentle reader [1].

As we write, the wanton destruction continues apace. Will Bolsonaro ever be like the Ancient Mariner, condemned to endlessly repent his actions in the Amazon? Will big oil ever be brought to account for all the heatwaves, fires and floods they have visited on us all? Coleridge longed for Divine justice in the world. What will happen to us if his wish comes true?[2]



#ecocide #climate change #global warming #samuel taylor coleridge #ancient mariner #romantic movement

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