The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Professor Steven Jones

My poetry choice is banal, but genuine; it is Coleridge and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The scientific tie is subtle, but real; Coleridge went to Christ's Hospital School, where the mathematics teacher had been one William Wales - and Wales was Captain Cook's astronomer on his (I think) second voyage, when he was the first to penetrate into Antarctica. He fell into a severe depression, probably caused by scurvy, on the trip - hence the ice, the albatross, and the lonely times, learned no doubt by Coleridge from a scientist.

- Professor Steven Jones

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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 mariners' hollo!

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God's own head,
The glorious sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped 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 deep 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 danced 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 followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung

Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Biographical Details

Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College, London. Much of his research has been concerned with snails and the light their anatomy can shed on biodiversity and genetics. His popular works include  The Language of the Genes (Harper Collins 1993) In The Blood (Harper Collins 1995), Almost like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated. (Anchor Books, 1999 ) and Y: the Descent of Men  (Little, Brown 2002).