|Heimboldshausen, Germany, April 3, 1945|
For the past two decades I've led a fairly productive double life as a headline writer and an oral historian. Rarely have the twain met, except on twacks like the ones above. But just the other day they collided again.
I was thinking how sometimes, when I corner a listener and start relating the stories of the 712th Tank Battalion as they were told to me by veterans who have since passed away, I'm a little like the Ancient Mariner cornering the poor wedding guest. So on a whim, I googled the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which I hadn't read since high school (Mr. Jennings' class at Stuyvesant H.S. if I remember correctly), and I was amazed -- stunned, floored, wowed, thank you Mister Roget -- at how many headlines I've written over the years owe their origin to the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.
My goodness, every time the Weather Channel sends a few drops of rain my newspaper's way, I think I've written a headline that said "Water Water Everywhere."
I knew that came from the Ancient Mariner, but look at all these other great lines:
"Alone, alone, all all alone..."
"Oh sleep it is a gentle thing"
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean"
A sadder and a wiser man he woke the morrow morn."
I mean, that's four lines of poetry that have launched a thousand headlines, sorry about that Helen, and after reading and re-reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I have but one regret: that had I known the newspaper I used to edit copy and write clever headlines for would throw me away like yesterday's fish wrap, I would have tried harder to sneak a headline past the slot employing the word "Eftsoons."