Water, water every where

National Poetry Day

Water, water every where...

Water, water every where…

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The theme for this year’s National Poetry Day is ‘Water, Water, Everywhere’, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem of 1798 ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. It’s a gift of a theme for us here at the Wordsworth Trust, where STC and his work feature in our daily tours of Dove Cottage, and also because we live in the wettest part of England, the Lake District. If you’re not already familiar with the poem, you can listen to the mellifluous voice of Ian McKellen in a special recording for the Wordsworth Trust here.

‘Rime’ is not, I must confess, my favourite poem. Although its lines have passed into common idiom (‘an albatross around one’s neck’, along with the aforesaid ‘water, water’) and the images of Life-in-death and the ghostly ship remain with me long after I have closed the book, the rather lengthy preamble is somewhat off-putting, as is the ‘wedding guest’ device.

Coleridge's life mask

Coleridge’s life mask

However, today I performed the entire poem as part of a NPD Poetry Marathon: it took about 25 minutes and it really made me engage with poem’s language. I realised how repetitive it is, but also how effectively that repetition has been deployed. I loved the nightmarish feeling as each new episode loomed into view, more horrific than the last, and felt quite giddy as I recited the final lines (whether from elation or exhaustion, I’m not sure). The audience and performers agreed that one really good outcome of the Marathon was that it gave us the freedom to recite longer poems, which are often overlooked in favour of something sort and snappy which fits in with the usual pigeon-brain poetry-span of people’s attention. In fact, the whole day has been a bit like being tuned into a radio channel playing exclusively poetry, rather than the drone of typing, phone calls, and the whine of the heating system. Huge thanks to everyone who read today – you are all champions of poetry and thoroughly good eggs to boot. You can read the poetry of two of our readers here and here.

Before I go, I just want to mention two of my water-themed favourite poems, ‘Inversnaid’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins  and ‘Amphibians’ by Neil Rollinson, which you can find on page 33 of this anthology. ‘Inversnaid’ is the most evocative of Hopkins’ sound poems, rich in internal rhyme and bubbling with the streams, burns and becks which run through it. The Bodleian Library have the manuscript of the poem (and a wonderful recording to boot) – treat yourself to a listen. Although Inversnaid is in Scotland, the poem feels like an invocation to the Lake District and it often springs to mind when I am out walking.

Neil Rollinson's Amphibians

Neil Rollinson’s Amphibians

‘Amphibians’ was inspired by a long period of persistently wet weather here in the Lakes, when Neil Rollinson was Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust. He was one of the first poets I met in person: lying on a sofa, with greasy hair and a leather jacket, smoking a cigarette. The poem describes so accurately the kind of desperation and depression that endless rainy days can induce, yet it is a vibrant poem which is comforting and humorous to read.

One more piece of poetry to send you on your way: the Scottish Poetry Library have produced this beautiful video, incorporating 8 water-themed poems for you to enjoy. Happy National Poetry Day!