Close Reading of a Poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a great example of a typical English ballad tradition. The poem, as a result, provides the reader with a lengthy narrative. The poem is a part of the Lyrical Ballads published by both Coleridge and William Wordsworth in 1798. This work differs from many others in the collection as it is more ballad than lyric. The phrase “lyrical ballad” was intended to signify the authors’ intention to combine the two genres: the lyric, dedicated to personal experience and emotion and the ballad, which includes a storyline and characters.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner does at times feel like a lyric due its emphasis on emotion and its vivid descriptions. Nevertheless, the existence of a story points directly to a ballad. The form of the poem is similar to other older more popular English ballads. Most of the stanzas have four-lines, called a quatrain, and an ABCB rhyme scheme with the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyming. Coleridge divides the poem into seven parts. Most of the stanzas in the poem have four lines; several have five or six lines.
In the four-line stanzas, the second and fourth lines usually rhyme. In the five- and six-line stanzas, the second or third line usually rhymes with the final line. The variation in form is explained by Coleridge placing more emphasis on meaning as opposed to form. The lengths of each line vary between eight syllables in the first and third lines, and six in the second and fourth. Another significant component of the structure is the meter. The poem has a significant number of iambs or unaccented syllables followed by accented ones.
The meter alternates between iambic tetrameter (with four feet per line) and iambic trimeter (with three feet per line). Coleridge occasionally uses enjambment, the practice of carrying the sense of one line of verse over to the next line without a pause: “And now the storm-blast came, and he Was tyrannous and strong” (1, 41-42). Although the poem has an older structural form, there are definitely flashier, more dramatic aspects more consistent with Romanticism. The main character in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the Mariner who describes his disturbing experiences.
The Mariner ends up killing the albatross, suffers the consequences, learns from his mistakes, and in the end is redeemed. As part of his reparation, he spends his life telling his story to others as a warning to make himself an example. At first sight, the mariner is frightening in looks and manner, but he is so passionate that the wedding guest is compelled to listen. As the tale unfolds, the wedding guest’s reactions to the mariner range from scorn, sympathy, and finally pity. The wedding guest serves as a plot device to frame and advance the story, but he experiences a transformation of his own.
Startled by the mariner who confronts him, the wedding guest first appears as a very shallow over the top character. Nevertheless, by the time he has heard the mariner’s troubling story, he has become thoughtful and subdued. There are two settings in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In the first scene an ancient mariner stops a guest at a wedding party and begins to tell his tale. The mariner’s words then transfer the reader on a long ocean voyage, not returning to the wedding until the end of the poem. The story is set in the late medieval period and occurs in a town which is never named.
Some speculate that it is likely that Coleridge’s audience pictured a British seaport like London. The mariner details a voyage he took in his younger years, leaving from an unnamed European country to the South Pole and back. The initial account of the ship and its crew are fairly believable, but as the ancient mariner begins his quest for understanding and redemption, the supernatural world increasingly overcomes him. His world becomes nightmarish in comparison to the real world that he has left behind. Despite this shift, elements from the natural world are a constant presence.
For the majority of the poem, the mariner is adrift in the middle of the ocean, symbolically cut off from all human companionship. There are several secondary themes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, involving Christianity and the supernatural, along with two primary themes. The first primary theme is suffering consequences for committing a single unthinkable act. When the mariner shoots an albatross, he commits the deed very nonchalantly and without hostility. Nevertheless, this impulsive, vicious act results in his undoing.
Similar to other Romantics, Coleridge believed that the seeds of destruction and creation are contained each within the other. In his eyes, one cannot create something without destroying another. Likewise, destruction leads to the development of something new. The loss of the mariner’s ship, shipmates, and his own former self ultimately leads to the regeneration of the mariner. The albatross is a very difficult character to understand as it seems to have both positive and negative qualities. If it hadn’t come along at a certain point in the poem, it is likely that the ntire crew would have died in the ice field. Nevertheless, the consequences of shooting the albatross are equivalent and potentially worse than death. The aforementioned process of destruction and regeneration leads to the poem’s second main theme. The mariner eventually comes to recognize enormous consequences of his casual act, despite his periodic refusal to accept responsibility for his actions. To do this he must understand that all things in nature are of equal value. Everything, as a part of the natural realm, possesses its own beauty and is to be treasured for its own sake.
This consciousness is suddenly evident when the mariner spontaneously acknowledges the beauty of the sea snakes; he is overcome with passionate love for them, and he can bless them ‘unaware’. The moral of his story is visible in the ancient mariner’s final words to the wedding guest: “He prayeth best, who loveth best/ All things both great and small;/ For the dear God who loveth us,/ He made and loveth all” (7, 614-617). As is characteristic with a poem about life at sea, there is a lot of attention devoted to the weather and environment.
The romantic nature of the poem enhances this general theme to include a huge Antarctic fog, an extensive drought which changes the ocean into a swamp, and a lightning storm that brings people back from the dead. When the Mariner’s ship is redirected south following a severe storm, an albatross leads the ship through fog and ice, they suffer through the terrible drought, and the seemingly supernatural night storm eventually cause the mariner to be dragged by unidentifiable forces into the bay. The storm is compared metaphorically to a winged predator (1, 43-44).
The ship is viewed as the prey running in the “shadow” of the predator to escape it. The ship’s shrunken wood boards become main indicator of the dryness resulting from the albatross’ death and there are visions of a strange meteorological event joined with the ascension of the sailor’s bodies. A single cloud is visible in the distance, lightning strikes in a straight line, and a wind heard but not felt disrupts the scene. Coleridge centers the focus of the poem on humanity’s relationship with the natural world. It is obvious that the killing of the albatross brings dire consequences on the mariner.
In a broader sense, it is not his killing of the bird that is immoral, but the mariner’s and by extension humankind’s coldhearted and destructive association with nature that is in error. Coleridge aims to address this relationship and place it in a larger philosophical context. If the reader internalizes the lesson that the ancient mariner obtains from his experience, then there are future social implications. All of these elements contribute to the portrayal of the natural realm; however, they also add a sense of mystery to the poem.
The poem’s mysterious and secretive component is only furthered by the dialogue surrounding the moon, sun, and stars. In the poem these phenomena are extended many supernatural powers, especially after the Mariner shoots the albatross. In many ways it seems that the moon is dictating the events of the poem through the Mariner’s punishment and his eventual penance. Images of the moon and its white light are often foreshadowing in the poem. The moon is introduced when its white light shines down through the fog (1, 77-78).
After initially being capture by the vivid description, the reader realizes that the image is foreboding of trouble to come for the sailors. Trouble ensues for the crew when the sun’s color is compared to blood (2, 112-114). Similarities were also drawn between the size of the sun and moon. The use of blood is a tactic utilized in many romantic pieces as is the master/ slave dialectic. The moon imagery is later clarified by comparing the relationship between the ocean and the moon to that of a slave and master (6, 446-451).
This is why the moon has apparent control over the poem’s plot. In a final solidifying moment, part 6 stanza 100 projects a scene where the moon is shining in the dead sailors’ eyes. One must question whether the moon was truly responsible for their deaths. Part of Coleridge’s technique is to personify qualities of nature as supernatural spirits; however, he never does develop an argument for pantheism. This is the principle that God and the material world are the same and that God is participates in all realms.
A significant amount of Christian symbolism and allegory are present, particularly at the end of Part 4. In this section distinct connections are made between suffering, repentance, redemption, and penance. These fundamentals combine to create a rich texture of both natural and religious symbolism that can be profoundly moving. This poem makes it difficult to separate the religious, spiritual, and supernatural realms. By the end of the poem, the message of the Mariner’s bizarre and violent story is go to church and say your prayers.
The message isn’t compatible with the poem’s religious and supernatural imagery, which isn’t in line with traditional Christian themes. In many instances, the poem even alters authentic Christian symbols. The sailors dream of a malicious spirit following them from nine fathoms under the ocean (2, 127-130). Sleep is even mythologized as a gift from the Virgin Mary (5, 292-294). The readers learn that angels control the bodies of the sailors (5, 305-308). In the morning, the singing of the angels is related to singing birds and to a symphony of instruments.
As a persecuted figure of salvation, the albatross can be viewed as a Christ figure, especially considering that aviary figures are frequently connect to Christ. The albatross is treated like a person, a “Christian soul,” (1, 65) by the lonely sailors. Coleridge also uses parallelism to display the sailors’ mood shift regarding killing the albatross (2, 91-96). The albatross becomes the signifier of the Mariner’s big mistake. As a symbol of the burden of sin, parallels can be drawn to the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
The curse is finally broken when the mariner learns to pray and the albatross falls “like lead” (4, 291) into the ocean. Although the mariner’s killing of the albatross, the horrifying deaths of his shipmates, and the grotesque portrayals of supernatural spirits are distressing, these elements are proposed to develop the story, to demonstrate how the mariner’s destructive act single him out, and to depict vividly the results of his act and the sickening, repulsive world that he ends up inhabiting because of it.
The consequences are all the more appalling for having been set in motion by such an inconsiderate act to begin with. Coleridge is working towards a goal to describe the mariner’s progression into a sensitive, understanding, and compassionate human being. In so doing, he hopes to convince the reader to reassess his or her attitudes towards the natural world. The mariner’s shipmates are innocent victims of his heinous crime. Like the members of the wedding party, the sailors are purposefully kept vague and undeveloped; since Coleridge’s goal is that the audience directs its full attention on the plight of the mariner.
Supernatural beings emerge in the poem as symbolic or allegorical figures, characterizing the forces of nature, life, death, and retribution. The mariner addresses these figures and must eventually appease them in order to obtain his salvation. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that has a lot occurring throughout. It is yet another great example of the tradition of Romantic writing. It is a direct reflection of the politics of the time; however, presents its ideas in a way that is well interpreted by the masses. Works Cited Wu, Duncan. Romanticism: an Anthology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1994. Print.