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The Rime of The Ancient Mariner is considered the starting point for the development of English romanticism. It is notable for its deliberately archaic language and inventive use of almost every known poetic technique. Examples from this poem are often given in English-language prosody manuals. Responding to the complaints of the first reviewers regarding the complexity of the language, sometimes obscuring the meaning of the poem, Coleridge revised the text for subsequent editions of the Lyrical Ballads. In addition, he provided the work with lengthy comments. The poem’s language complexity, technique flexibility, and the use of comments are some of the elements that make it a unique example of the late 18th century.
The Plot and Analysis of the Poem
To write an immortal poem, Samuel Coleridge used the story of an 18th-century traveler who told in his book about a strange man. It was the captain's mate, already elderly and always thoughtful. He believed in ghosts. When storms overtook them along the way, he claimed that this was retribution for the death of an albatross, a huge white bird from the breed of gulls, which he shot as a joke. The old man, the hero of the poem, of course, comes from the depths of the country (Rumens). The premise of the poem is quite simple, albeit evidently somewhat tragic. The titular mariner who tells about his experiences during the storm was largely traumatized by them, which foreshadows the story nearly right from the start.
For the sin in which every hunter is guilty, he is tormented by repentance all his life. In the seas where Byron's heroes amuse themselves with battles and the love of beautiful savages, he sees only spirits, now threatening, now forgiving. But how wise all this is in its seeming simplicity, what depth of thought is in this view of a person as of a lost child. After all, each of us at least once in his life was lonely, like an old sailor. The poem is rightly considered the best poetic creation of the Lake School (Rumens). Regarding the poem’s depth, it can be considered as one element that makes the poem unique. The romantic era is often characterized by idealization. In the case of the Mariner, this example appears to be quite the opposite.
The Rime of The Ancient Mariner was written in the meter of English folk ballads, with repetitions also in the folk spirit. This, as it were, brings it closer to the reader, who wants to sing it, like the poems that served as its model were once sung. Repetitions underlining the most significant places hypnotize us, infecting us with the intense excitement of the narrator. The rhymes that sometimes appear in the middle of the line, ringing in a short meter like bells, enhance the magical music of the poem (Rumens). Thus, another point that makes the poem untypical for English romantic poetry is the manner, in which it is written. Imitating English folklore is supposed to create an immersive effect for the reader and make them experience the senses and memories of the titular Mariner.
After sailing from the port, the main character's ship got into a storm, which took him far to the South, to Antarctica. An albatross, considered a good omen, appears and takes the ship out of the ice. However, the sailor kills the bird with a crossbow, without knowing why. His comrades scold him for this, but when the fog that enveloped the ship clears, they change their minds. But soon the ship falls into a dead calm, and the sailor is accused of bringing a curse on everyone.
An orphan's curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man's eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die (Coleridge 257-262).
Regarding the romantic nature of the poem, the albatross clearly serves the poem as a symbol. In such a metaphoric way, Coleridge attempts to provide that humans sometimes have a tendency to decide their own fate. In some cases, a wrong decision even if made unintentionally can lead to tragic consequences.
As a token of his guilt, the corpse of an albatross was hung around his neck. The calm continues, the team suffers from thirst. Eventually, a ghost ship appears, one by one, all two hundred of the sailor's comrades die, and the sailor is tormented for seven days by seeing their eyes full of eternal damnation. In the end, he sees in the water around the ship sea creatures, which he used to call only “slimy creatures”, and has begun to see, he blesses them all and all living things in general. The curse disappears, and as a sign of that, the albatross breaks from his neck:
The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea (Coleridge 288-291).
Carrying on with the metaphor, Coleridge provides that realizing and confessing one’s sins are some of the first steps towards salvation. It does not matter when the realization comes or when the confession is made, in fact. Coleridge implies that it is never too late to take the righteous path.
Rain pours from the sky and quenches the sailor's thirst, his ship sails straight home, disobeying the wind, led by the angels who have inhabited the bodies of the dead. Having brought the sailor home, the ship disappears with the crew in a whirlpool, but nothing is finished yet, and Life-in-Death makes the sailor wander the earth, telling his story and its lesson everywhere as an edification:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all (614-617).
At this point near the end of the poem, Coleridge reminds the readers that it is always important to never lose faith and hope, even in the darkest of times. This part is rather peculiar as it relates not only to the historical context of the poem. While at the time when the poem was written, faith primarily relied upon religion, in contemporary context faith can have multiple meanings, from the individual faith in being able to accomplish something to the belief in supernatural forces assisting one along the way.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a sublime poem, an imitation of a ballad. The poem talks about the events that happened to a sailor during a long voyage. He tells about this much later to a random interlocutor, whom he distracted from the wedding procession. The motive for killing the albatross is not clear: how did the bird prevent the sailor and what was the reason for killing it. This is one of the world's first ecological works.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "The Rime of The Ancient Mariner". Representative Poetry Online Library, 2022, https://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/content/rime-ancient-mariner-text-1834.
Rumens, Carol. "Poem of the Week: The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner By Samuel Taylor Coleridge". The Guardian, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/oct/26/rime-ancient-mariner.
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