All Things Both Great and Small

All Things Both Great and Small

In the seventh and last part of the poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Ancient Mariner has come full circle, but what is his fate?

“Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772—1834)

Poem 176. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part 7

‘This hermit good lives in that wood
Which slopes down to the sea.
How loudly his sweet voice he rears!
He loves to talk with marineres
That come from a far countree.
He kneels at morn, and noon, and eve—
He hath a cushion plump:
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak-stump.
The skiff-boat near’d: I heard them talk,
“Why, this is strange, I trow!
Where are those lights so many and fair,
That signal made but now?”
“Strange, by my faith!” the Hermit said—
“And they answer’d not our cheer!
The planks look warp’d! and see those sails,
How thin they are and sere!
I never saw aught like to them
Unless perchance it were
Brown skeletons of leaves that lag
My forest-brook along;
When the ivy-tod is heavy with snow,
And the owlet whoops to the wolf below,
That eats the she-wolf’s young.”
“Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look—
(The Pilot made reply)
I am a-fear’d.”—“Push on, push on!”
Said the Hermit cheerily.
The boat came closer to the ship,
But I nor spake nor stirr’d;
The boat came close beneath the ship,
And straight a sound was heard.
Under the water it rumbled on,
Still louder and more dread:
It reach’d the ship, it split the bay;
The ship went down like lead.
Stunn’d by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which sky and ocean smote,
Like one that hath been seven days drown’d
My body lay afloat;
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot’s boat.
Upon the whirl, where sank the ship,
The boat spun round and round;
And all was still, save that the hill
Was telling of the sound.
I moved my lips—the Pilot shriek’d
And fell down in a fit;
The holy Hermit raised his eyes,
And pray’d where he did sit.
I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy,
Who now doth crazy go,
Laugh’d loud and long, and all the while
His eyes went to and fro.
“Ha! ha!” quoth he, “full plain I see
The Devil knows how to row.”
And now, all in my own countree,
I stood on the firm land!
The Hermit stepp’d forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.
“O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!”,
The Hermit cross’d his brow.
“Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say—
What manner of man art thou?”
Forthwith this frame of mine was wrench’d
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.
What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The wedding-guests are there:
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bride-maids singing are:
And hark, the little vesper bell,
Which biddeth me to prayer!
O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide, wide sea:
So lonely ’twas, that God Himself
Scarce seemèd there to be.
O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
’Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!—
To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends,
And youths and maidens gay!
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.’
The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turn’d from the bridegroom’s door.
He went like one that hath been stunn’d,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man
He rose the morrow morn.

This part of the poem begins with the mariner reflecting on what he knows of the hermit who has a rapport with seafarers and a reputation for a Spartan holiness. As he does so, the pilot’s boat approaches his vessel and he hears the pilot and the hermit speaking of the lights that were visible from land but are no longer so and the dilapidated condition of the ship, the hermit comparing the sails to leaves in the dead of winter “when the ivy-tod is heavy with snow and the owlet whoops to the wolf below, that eats the she-wolf’s young”—clearly a harsh and bitter winter. The pilot becomes afraid but the hermit is undaunted and bids him “Push on, push on!”

The moment that this small boat nears the ship, a terrible sound breaks the silence: a thunderclap, perhaps or an earthquake, though most likely it is the last act of the water spirit that has accompanied the ship for most of the poem. Whatever the source, the sound echoes from the hills and across the bay and the ship instantly sinks like a stone, while the mariner is rescued and finds himself in the pilot’s boat, spinning around on the site of the wreck while the hills still reverberate with the terrific sound.

He is initially unconscious but as he comes to, it unnerves the pilot who falls to the deck in a fit while the hermit prays for strength and assistance. As the mariner regains his strength and takes the oars to bring the boat to the shore, the pilot’s boy, maddened by the sight of this revenant, laughs and his eyes spin: “’Ha! ha!’ quoth he, ‘full plain I see the Devil knows how to row’”.

They reach the shore: the mariner beaches the boat and stands at last on his home soil and as the hermit totters from the boat, the mariner begs the holy man to shrieve him (hear his confession and absolve him) but the hermit, crossing himself, asks this strange being “What manner of man art thou?”

The mariner is immediately seized with a powerful urge to tell the entire story to the hermit; this urge remains with him so that although the curse of the sea spirit is lifted, he labours under another that condemns him to travel across the world teaching his story to those selected by Fate to hear it; for this purpose, he is able to transfix the listener so that they may not stir until the story is done.

As the wedding reaches its happy denouement, the ancient mariner reflects on the moral of his story and that prayer and presence at the kirk (church) is his preferred pastime. In his parting comments, the ancient man bids the wedding guest farewell and exhorts him to respect and love other creatures of whatever type, for that is the essence of God’s love.

In the closing stanzas, the white-bearded Mariner leaves the wedding guest standing outside the bridegroom’s door but instead of entering in and joining the festivities, he slowly makes his way home, and rises the following day “A sadder and a wiser man”.

This is the final part of this epic poem, and Coleridge inserts his commentary, outlining the moral precepts of prayer and respect for all God’s creatures that are reinforced by the rest of the poem. Although he is indirectly preaching, I like the way the tale completes with the old man doomed to eternally cross and re-cross the globe, teaching his story to those that will profit from it: he certainly pays for his injudicious crossbow shot.

The line “All things both great and small” is thought to have been adopted by Mrs Cecil Alexander when she wrote “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. I remember listening to Richard Burton, John Neville and Robert Hardy performing it on a tape of poetry so many years ago: in some versions, a sort of commentary track runs alongside the main poem (I omitted it) and Hardy and Neville read these sections and the voices while Burton read the main poem.

A couple of days after I started covering this poem, Robert Lloyd Parry of Nunkie Theatre performed the whole poem in his alter ego of T.S. Elephant and my cousin Linda attended a separate performance in her village, so the Ancient Mariner was obviously near at hand!

T.S. Elephant is performing poems by request all through August. On August 9th, he performed “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare at my request in memory of Nicola (because it was her favourite).


  • Read about the poem on Wikipedia.
  • Watch T.S. Elephant perform “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” on YouTube.
  • Listen to Richard Burton, John Neville and Robert Hardy’s performance on YouTube.
  • Watch T.S. Elephant perform “The Listeners” on YouTube.