Coleridge At Watchet

[  Photograph Gallery # 69  ]

Watchet-Map

The harbour town of Watchet lies on the North Somerset coast of England, between the Quantock Hills and the Brendon Hills on the Eastern edge of Exmoor.

The harbour at Watchet is said to have been the inspiration for Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous epic poem ‘The Ancient Mariner’.  Whilst on a walk with his friends, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, over the Quantock Hills in 1797 from his home in nearby Nether Stowey, they came upon Watchet.  It has been said that looking down at the town from St. Decuman’s Church in the town gave him the idea for his poem.

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared, 
Merrily did we drop 
Below the kirk, below the hill, 
Below the lighthouse top.’
In 2002 the Watchet Market House Museum Society decided to commemorate the town’s important link with Coleridge by commissioning a statue. A seven-foot high effigy of the mariner was designed and created by sculptor Alan B. Herriot, of Penicuik, Scotland, cast by Powderhall Fine Art Foundries in Edinburgh and unveiled by Dr. Katherine Wyndham in 2003.  This statue now stands overlooking the marina on Watchet Esplanade.
There is now a designated ‘Coleridge Way’ walk of 51 miles through the landscape that inspired Coleridge to produce some of his best known work.  It takes an east to west path from Nether Stowey to Lynmouth through the lovely Somerset countryside of the Quantock Hills, the Brendon Hills and Exmoor – or obviously, in the reverse direction.

My photographs below were taken on a visit to the area in and around Watchet in 2007.

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Watchet 01

Watchet – Harbour & Marina

 

Watchet 02

Looking north-east from Watchet harbour across the Bristol Channel to the island of Steep Holm

Watchet 03

Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’. created by the Scottish sculptor, Alan Herriot

Watchet 04

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner! 
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! — 
Why look’st thou so?’ — With my cross-bow 
I shot the ALBATROSS..

Watchet 05

(Coleridge) … this renowned poet resided for some years at the nearby village of Nether Stowey.  In 1797, while on a walking tour, Coleridge visited Watchet.  On seeing the harbour he was inspired to compose one of the best known poems in English literature, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’

Watchet 06

While the black-backed gulls keep an eye on events

Watchet 07

Coastal rock striations near Watchet 

Watchet 08

Dead, or just over-wintering?

‘The Journey’ by D.A.King

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The Journey

Like men of old of sail, becalmed, though not
by lack of wind, we idle, ill at ease.
I think of those who watched us sail from home; they would
not think such change could come about.

We were provisioned well; the boat was sound; the crew
beyond reproach, but what we surely knew would see
us through was this: a man whose faith
had bred our own, and who had led
a life of exploration on these seas
and penned on careful charts each channel, shore and sound
and every place where foolish man might run aground,
this old man of the sea, in love (and maybe envy)
of our youth and spirit, blessed us with his patronage.
His maps and notes he had no further use for:
they were ours.

Long hours we sat into the night, we
and the old man, and he told
of journeys round the good land –
hidden always, so he said, in such thick mists
and buffeted by storms,
that he had never set a foot upon its sand.
Nor would he now.
What hope remained, he would transfer to us.
Our journey would not fail.

In this perhaps we erred: we made
one passing nod to science. We installed
(to reinforce our faith in ancient learning – so
we said) a radar set, and watched its one eye
glare like Satan’s at us on the bridge. We learnt
to read (as best we could) its hieroglyphs, its shadows,
points of light, which painted for us on its dark screen
landscapes, barely seen
in faint and unfamiliar images.
Yet still we sailed, our expectations high,
into a world of mists devoid of any shape we knew.
Only in Satan’s eye were patterns that made sense
– but untrained eyes beholding sense (or seeming to)
need help from what they know. We sought
to verify the patterns, match
impressions with the charts, but all the while
in Satan’s eye, it seemed the maps had lied:
There was no way to reconcile the two. We tried,
and trying, became prey
to every shift of wind and tide. Irresolution
had become the skipper of our crew.

And so the great decision;
how to tell the crew? The land,
the object of the quest, eluded us.
The good did not exist. The best,
we’d found on board, in easy friendships.
Who could now explain that what had made this so
was less than true, and take the rich soil of the life they’d grown
or telling them, part company from the best we’d known –
and thereby be the cause of that old seaman’s loss of pride?

Faith for us now, if it can be, must be
not in good causes, lives or better lands,
but in those things that live and make their presence felt
in mist and fog and storm, where lack of definition
baffles indecisive man, where man
encounters chaos,
and in meeting it, finds form.

mariner

Submitted by … Dave King

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This poem was submitted to and published on a previous website of mine – now defunct. Some of my readers may remember that David Alexander King was my own inspiration to start blogging, just 4 months ago.  He was both a poet and an artist and became a prolific blogger in the time before he died 3 years ago.  Please do take a look at my entries regarding Dave in my very first 2 blogs, which can be found at . . .

David Alexander King  and  The Eagle & The Child

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