In Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a wizened seadog meets three gallants on their way to a wedding and detains one of them in order to recount his terrifying story.
You know the rest.
The mariner's tale – out at sea he shot an albatross, causing a terrible curse to fall upon his ship and her crew – is an eerily powerful parable about the reverence a man should have for all God's creatures.
Is it possible to update or recast such a masterpiece?
Hmm. Until last week I would have said almost certainly not.
The chutzpah! But then I read Nick Hayes's The Rime of the Modern Mariner and my doubts fell away.
This is a beautiful book.
The text might not be so rich as the original – Hayes's nylon nets and polythene bags did not work on this reader quite so effectively as Coleridge's "death-fires" and "witch's oils" – but the illustrations more than make up for this.
As a draughtsman, Hayes here places himself firmly in an English romantic tradition that includes Thomas Bewick and Eric Gill, Samuel Palmer and Stanley Spencer.
As a result, holding this exquisite book in your hands (his publisher, Jonathan Cape, has spared no expense) feels akin to a sacramental act.
In Hayes's Rime, the mariner accosts an office worker in a park as he eats his lunchtime sandwich (having casually discarded the plastic box in which he bought it).
The tale he tells is one of environmental disaster. Stranded in the North Pacific Gyre – a swirling and poisonous whirlpool of plastic waste – the mariner comes face to face with the consequences of our unthinking consumption.
As in Coleridge's poem, there are spectral animations, and seemingly wrathful gods, but something more prosaic is at work too: the sea is a confetti of bottle tops, and when the mariner hangs the albatross's body around his neck, he sees that it has been strangled by the fine nylon gauze of a fishing net.
Back on land, cradled by a bower of ancient trees, his pillow a clump of sweet cicely, the mariner finally understands that the earth, too, has a heartbeat and that we ignore it at our peril.
From here on in he will remind everyone he meets of this simple truth.
Does our Blackberry-addicted drone listen?
Of course not.
He mistakes the mariner for a hobo, tosses him a coin and returns to "a world detached of consequence".
On the way back to his shiny office block, he obliviously passes a shop called Humankind, in the window of which hangs a sign.
It says "Closing down sale".
Back on the park bench, our mariner listens to the melodies of the breeze, and wonders again at mankind's blithe disregard for the planet.
The expression on his face combines horror and sagacity quite brilliantly.
Those who know their Old Testament will think nervously of the prophets and tingle pleasurably with guilt.
- TheForbiddenPlanet blog : Director’s Commentary: Nick Hayes on the Rime of the Modern Mariner