This famous line is from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This poem reveals the events of a mariner upon his return from a sea voyage. After landfall, he stops a wedding goer and begins to tell him a story. At first the stranger is amused, but then impatience rears its head, subsequently followed by angst and then allure as the mariner tells his tale. The story begins as one would assume, his journey into the sea. Despite a fortunate beginning, his voyage is beset by a storm that blows him off course. An albatross, a bird symbolized as the Christian soul, leads the crew out of dangerous water to safety, but the mariner sadly shoots the bird angering his crew. The ship then takes a turn into uncharted waters and it is here the famous line is said by the crew:
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And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
At this point in the piece, the crew is stuck in them middle of the sea surrounded by liquid gold they can not touch, can not drink. The ocean becomes an intimidating place for sailors at home on the water; the sea boiled with under water beasts, and at night, strange fires seem to rise out of the water's surface. The sailors are punished for the Ancient Mariner's mistake with deprivation made worse by the fact that what they need so badly - water - is all around them, but is entirely undrinkable. Since the poem's publication, these lines have come into common usage to refer to situations in which one is surrounded by the thing one desires, but is denied it nevertheless.
In light of recent floods in Tennessee, I have heard this phrase murmured several times. And though the phrase is old and weathered, it still holds water in this use as it is originally intended in the poem (pun absolutely intended).
This phrase suggests wanting what you can not have. While we, in the Volunteer State, did not want the flood, we are looking out on water everywhere that is undrinkable, water that has ruined our cities and towns, and water that has caused devastation throughout Middle Tennessee; and we want relief. Water, usually viewed as a giver of life, is now a destructive force to be reckoned with, and we now want to move back in to chartered territory, much like the sailors in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
We are looking for a reason, for someone or something to blame. We are seeking guidance and reading Revelations making sure he did say "fire" upon the next destruction of the earth. We are watching for animals two by two, gathering committees to build an ark. We are angry and confused, still trying to find the rainbow that should appear in the sky. The sailors also looked for signs of God's presence after the destruction came upon them.
And like the sailors, I did not see a rainbow in the sky. I saw death as did they, and I saw sadness as did they, and I saw loss as did they, but unlike the sailors, this did not last for long. For here in Middle Tennessee, when the flood was at its worst, I saw an outpouring of help from the community; people, neighborhoods, friends, and families coming together to help those affected by Nature's force. This is our rainbow. I saw Red Cross Shelters come up at churches all over town, I saw donations, food, money, and goods filtering out to those in need, another part of the rainbow. I saw smiles amidst tears as loved ones were found, hugs amidst sobs as comforting took place, and laughter amidst frowns as plans were made to reorganize, restructure, and rebuild. In the kindness of others, I saw the rainbow.
And while there is still water, water everywhere, we have plenty to drink. If you are interested in helping with this natural disaster, please follow this link for The Red Cross,