The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: An Analysis
Coleridge is one of the major poets of the Romantic Movement. He is considered the founder of the Romantic Movement in England. He is best known for his The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Kubla Khan and Biographia Literaria. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is one of the most famous poems in the English language. It was first published in 1798.
Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem about a man on a voyage by ship. This poem shows that this man killed an innocent albatross on the way. It was a heinous crime and disregard for a creature of nature. This single crime changes the course of his life and death. He has to face a terrible inner struggle. He spends the rest of his life trying to atone for his sin. Sin and repentance are the central themes of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. 'One should respect God and all of his creations.’ Through this beautiful poem, this significant moral message has been conveyed.
Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner recounts the experiences of an old grey-bearded sailor, the Mariner. It is he who has returned from a long sea voyage. He detains one of three young men on their way to a wedding feast to narrate a story of his youthful experience at sea. The Wedding-Guest is at first reluctant to listen because the ceremony is about to begin. But the mariner's glittering eyes captivate him. He listens to the story of his slaughter of an albatross, the deaths of his fellow sailors, his suffering, and his eventual redemption.
The mariner's tale begins with the starting of his journey. Despite initial good fortune, the ship is driven to the south by a storm. It reaches the icy waters of the Antarctic. In the mean time an albatross appears. It leads the ship out of the ice. The crew members are grateful to the bird. They feed and praise the albatross. But unexpectedly the mariner shoots the bird with his cross-bow. In the words of the mariner:
With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.
At this ungratefulness the crew members are angry with the mariner. But when the weather becomes warmer and the mist disappears the crew members change their mind. They start supporting the mariner’s crime:
'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.
They soon realised their mistake. The support of the crime of mariner arouses the wrath of spirits. They pursue the ship from the land of mist and snow. The south wind that had initially blown them north now sends the ship into uncharted waters near the equator. The sailors suffer a lot. The narrator explains:
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
At this juncture the sailors change their minds once again. They blame the mariner for the torment of their thirst. They are so angry that they force the mariner to wear the dead albatross about his neck. It is done to express the regret for the crime committed against albatross.
Very soon the ship encounters a ghostly effect. One by one all of the crew members die. But the mariner does not die because he has to suffer a lot.
Eventually, the mariner begins to appreciate the sea creatures that were swimming in the water. He sees their true beauty. He blesses them. The mariner now manages to pray. The albatross falls from his neck. It seems that his guilt is partially forgiven. It then starts to rain. The dead bodies of the crew rise again and help steer the ship. In a trance, the mariner hears two spirits discussing his voyage and penance. He comes to know that the ship is being powered supernaturally.
Finally the mariner wakes from his trance. He comes in sight of his homeland. But initially he is uncertain as to whether or not he is hallucinating. Finally the mariner wakes from his trance. He finds himself in his homeland. Initially the mariner does not believe at this. But it was a reality. The mariner exclaimes:
Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree?
Leaving only the mariner behind, the ship sinks in a whirlpool. A hermit then comes to meet him. A pilot and his boy are also there. When they pull the mariner from the water, they think he is dead. But when he opens his mouth, the pilot shrieks with fright. The hermit prays. When the mariner becomes normal he narrates his story to the hermit.
Driven by the agony of his guilt, the mariner is now forced to wander the earth. He is narrating his story over and over and teaching a lesson to those he meets. After finishing his story, the mariner leaves. The wedding-guest returns home. The next morning he wakes up as a sadder and a wiser man.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is written in a folk ballad style and is divided into seven parts. It has 143 stanzas. Most stanzas have four-lines. The rhyme scheme is abcb. Throughout the poem Coleridge uses narrative techniques like personification and repetition. The entire poem is an extended metaphor for a supernatural theme. The living albatross is a symbol of God's creation and of innocence. The dead albatross is a symbol of sin. In short, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a fantastic poem. It has left indelible mark on the pages of the history of English literature.