For my blog post I would like to propose we step away from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” and look at Romanticism as a whole through the lens of the Iron Maiden song “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I suggest that though the title and tale are obviously borrowed directly from Coleridge, Iron Maiden does more than just channel one story into a modern era, but instead draws ties from their own struggle back to those of writers and performers in the Romantic Era through “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere.”
Near minute 2:15 in the song, the lead singer belts out:
And the curse goes on and on at sea /
And the curse goes on and on for them and me.
Day after day, day after day, /
we stuck nor breath nor motion /
as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean /
Water, water everywhere and /
all the boards did shrink /
Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink.
To me, these words mean little in terms of “The Mariner” and much in terms of the struggle of Romantic writers. If we look at those lyrics as a tale in and of themselves of what a Romantic writer went through, they begin to take on a different shape. By saying “the curse goes on… at sea,” this could be describing the way in which true Romantic writers felt the need to take to voyages and live their experiences (whether it be in the wilderness or on the open ocean). In a way this calling was a curse as it was highly dangerous.
Moving on, the lyrics say, “the thirst goes on… for them and me.” Here, if thinking in terms of writers we see the “thirst,” or desire, for the Romantic writer is being channeled and recognized by the modern poet in Iron Maiden (this is the first instance of the first person being used throughout). It could be both implying that they are both “thirsting” for new material and will never be able to quench their passions for experience and need to commune with the world around them on a gritty, dirty, raw, cursed level (which seems very true for writers in both genres).
The part which discusses “day after day… we stuck nor breath nor motion” describes the way in which there is a sort of monotony about playing it safe and writing about the same old stuff. It describes the frustration at not being able to breathe life into a work and set it to motion, or give it real relevancy in the time. I believe this is why Romanticism and heavy metal were unexpected and shocking to the senses. They had to break out of the daily grind in order to talk about the daily grind in a way that would actually resonate with their complacent audiences.
Additionally, the part about “as ideal as a painted ship upon a painted ocean,” could be referring to the way in which both artists feel about being oppressed by stagnation. To go back to Dryden, the general consensus was enough of Shakespeare we need more new authorship. For Iron Maiden, it’s enough with sex, drugs and rock and roll, we need more metal. Neither genre wants to just be a painted piece on a preset canvas. Both want to break out of the mold and do something edgy and interactive that will make their audiences squirm.
To sum it up, in the final lines, there is discussion about “water” being “everywhere,” but it’s “shrink[ing].” This could describe the drying out, or evaporating effect of previous genres of literature as they lose their potency and prominence (like Dryden alluded to). Additionally, this idea that there is “not a drop to drink,” brings us full circle to the justification of why these “cursed” poets have to take their voyages into the literary (and sometimes physical) abyss in the first place. They are just so “thirst[y]” for new material.
It is my hope that “thirst” is never truly quenched, for when that day comes we will never again experience the startling sensation of being drenched in a downpour of impassioned words.