The blog of the Ancient Mariner
Whenever I finish writing a section of the "A mind is a difficult thing to change" series, I'm amazed at how much I have to say, and how long it takes me to say it. My guess is that there are at least eight more posts coming up in the series, maybe even more.
I'm always gratified and surprised that so many people actually have the patience to hear me out. And I'm especially and deeply touched by those who take the trouble to thank me (particularly any Vietnam vets, or Vietnamese-Americans), or those who identify with what I write, or those who were too young to remember but are nevertheless still interested. I'm flattered by those who suggest this could actually be a book (although sometimes I feel like it already is a book).
And I sort of chuckle at those who say--"well, but what about this, what about that, why haven't you talked about x, y, and z?" I want to say, "Hey, man, are you some sort of glutton for punishment? Isn't this long enough?" Actually, if I ever do write a book, I imagine I'll get around to answering some of the excellent questions raised by many readers.
To those who ask me, "Why haven't you talked about how it affects you now?", or some version of that question, I counsel patience. I'm going chronologically here--I'll get to it, but slowly. All in good time. Each essay gives the state of mind of myself and others during a certain era--I will add on certain new discoveries about old events later.
Every response and every reader is appreciated. The real reason I began blogging, I believe, was to write this series. But I don't think I ever would have done so if some of the people whom I originally most wanted to hear my story--certain friends and family members--had not made it clear they did not want to hear from me about this at all. Some of those close to me have also made it clear, despite the fact that we continue to have good relations, that they will never read this blog. Is it lack of interest, fear that their own point of view might be challenged, or fear that, if exposed to my turncoat ways, they might have to cut off the relationship? Whatever it is, it is a source of sorrow for me.
But in a way, it doesn't really matter. Because, like Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, it seems I am compelled to tell my tale. The Mariner faces a situation more dramatic than mine, and he meets his listeners face-to-face. But I can identify, nevertheless:
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony 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 ;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me :
To him my tale I teach.
I studied that poem in junior high school. It wasn't one of my favorites, although the cadences appealed to me, and some of the stanzas, too, particularly these famous ones:
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 poem contained a mystery--many mysteries, actually. Was the Mariner under a spell? What did the Albatross represent? And why, oh why oh why, did he shoot it? I seem to recall tackling the job of writing an essay on the latter question, poring over the poem to find the answer, only to discover--it couldn't be found there. I was a bit annoyed at that, because I guess even then I was interested in human motivation, and I couldn't understand why Coleridge was mum on this all-important point.
Well, I still don't know why the Mariner shot the Albatross. But I no longer think the poem is the lesser for its failure to tell us. In fact, I think the mystery is part of its appeal.
Perhaps the Ancient Mariner doesn't even know himself why he did what he did. But he knows something happened that was wrong, and he was part of it; and that now he must tell the tale. In the end, it's a story of redemption and healing; that much I know, too. Healing, not just for the Mariner:
Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale ;
And then it left me free.
...but for his listener, too:
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn :
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.