Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Sea as a Supernatural Force

In the three poems we were supposed to read (Southey, Robinson, Coleridge), there are parallels that I find interesting. The first is perhaps the most obvious, that all three poems deal with the ocean as a malevolent, supernatural force that is against man. This is most evidently seen in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," because throughout the entire poem the mariner has to battle the forces of nature (and the sea). Lines 107-118 of Part II in particular are some of my favorite lines of this poem,

"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, ne breath ne 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, / Ne any drop to drink."

These repetition in these lines suggest a tedious, hard struggle for survival out at sea. The fact that the ship's crew is surrounded by miles and miles of water that cannot be drunk is torture. The same sort of torment is emphasized in Robinson's poem with descriptive words (such as "deaf'ning roar" (line 7), and the ominous "cavern wide/ Its shad'wy jaws display'd" (14-15) that show the brutality and desolation of the sea.

The other main connection I see between the poems is the guilt that stays with the survivors. In Southey's poem, the man who killed the slave woman by flogging her to death says "I saw the sea close over her/ Yet she is still in sight; / I see her twisting every where; / I hear her day and night." (105-108). Robinson also refers to the idea that by the power of Heaven the fisherman should have a guilty mind and "wastes, in Solitude and Pain--/ A loathsome life away." (80-81). The sea is a force of nature that is cruel; it is a "Gothic Horror," and leaves the minds of the people who dare to venture out to sea in eternal torment.

1 comment:

  1. I was recycling some art history notes today when I came across what I had written about Turner's painting, and I thought immediately of Clara's post.
    Here's the link http://properzia.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/slave-ship-turner.jpg

    His sublime interpretation of the sea makes it seem simultaneously threatening and beautiful. Its complex color makes the ocean something of an unknown commodity; it is not the traditional blue we would associate with going sailing for instance. This makes the ocean appear to be a force that can't be tamed or mastered by humans, and therefore it poses an immediate threat to those at its mercy. For a man to subject fellow humans to such a fate for personal profit seems all the more cruel and unthinkable.

    I think the inclusion of a giant squid (bottom right corner) is particuarly interesting for this very reason. Since the sea represents the unknown, that captain didn't know (or care) what happened to the slaves he threw overboard, even though he had no idea what was out there. For all he knew, the waters could have been monster-infested, but he didn't care. Turner's interpretation of Southey's poem really makes the inhumanity of this act hit home.