I couldn’t help it. Me and a million other English speakers saw this prompt, and instantly thought:
“Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.”
The verse is extracted from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 7-part epic poem, “THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER.”
When I say epic, I’m not fooling around. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (originally The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) is the longest major (define major, please) poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It took two years to write (1797–98) and was published in 1798. It’s long. No kidding. LONG.
Everyone who went to school where English is spoken probably knows of — or at least has heard — the “water, water, everywhere” verse … but do you know how many verses this poem has? Do you, huh?
One hundred and forty-three.
I think Coleridge wrote the poem to punish the old guy for killing an albatross. Albatross killing was a totally uncool thing to do, at least if you were aboard a ship. Really bad luck, not only for you — the albatross slayer — but for the entire ship’s crew. When The Gods punish a misdeed, they don’t go with “surgical strike.” More like general smiting to produce mass death and associated damnation. Gods want to be sure everyone got the point. And always, there’s one poor slob left alive to tell the awful (long) tale.
What? You mean … he didn’t write the poem to punish someone? Ah, I see. He wrote it to tell us the terrible tragic story that befell the mariner for his shameful destruction of an innocent bird. Maybe it was the innocent wedding guest to whom the mariner confessed his crime … all 143 verses of it …who was being punished.
I’m a better person than that. I won’t regale you with the long, sad story except to say that, in my opinion that one famous verse is the best one in the poem and if you know that one, you can fudge the rest. Also, it’s surprisingly hard to find a full text of the poem. You can find a lot of stuff about the poem. Analysis, history, context, criticism … but the whole poem? Most places just do sections. Me too.
However, for those who really need a full Coleridge experience, please feel free to click this link and go the full distance. Albatross, mariner, wedding guest, and becalmed ship upon the cruel ocean. Note: The version to which I have given you a link contains side notes so you don’t forget what’s going on while you travel through time upon the briny deep.