The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Jaws and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Supernatural Morality Tales
The 1975 film, Jaws exploded onto theater screens as the first summer blockbuster and was immediately launched into modern popular culture (Sragow). The tale of the rogue man-eating shark terrorizing the small town of Amity Island, a town that appears to encapsulate and evoke nostalgia and Americana, and the trio of men who travel into the vast Atlantic to kill the huge Great White has become ingrained in American folklore. Although symbolism and meaning of the movie vary from person-to-person, the vastness of the sea and the unpredictable nature of the shark come to represent the familiar topic of mankind attempting to control nature and forces out of his control, and the chaos that ensures. Further, Spielberg’s film explores the suffering of mankind through the lens of the aforementioned bloodthirsty shark. Over one hundred years earlier, in 1834, English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge published his major Romantic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which explores supernatural elements of forces out of the control of men, and the mystical consequences that arise when control is attempted. The animals at the center of both tales, either the immense shark or the mysterious albatross hold numerous supernatural representations but ultimately lead to questions of fate, humanity, and the otherworldly, powerful forces. Further, these symbols remind the men of each of the pieces that the mystical nature of the seemingly endless ocean depths cannot be controlled. Both Jaws and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are tales of transformation, stories within stories, that demonstrate the damaging effects of trying to control forces of nature, and also trying to understand these forces.
Both Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the film, Jaws implement elements of folklore, becoming lodge within popular culture. In both pieces of media, there are elements of nested narratives. Coleridge’s poem utilizes a framing device; the story of an ill-fated ship and the albatross is told to a guest at a wedding by an old and hardened sailor who was a member of the voyage (Coleridge, Line 21). By relating the events of the poem through a story, the mariner is somewhat distanced from the tale. The mariner is attempting to control how the story is told, yet, even in his retelling, the events remain out of his control. The shift in the narrator’s reliability most notably when the narration of the poem shifts from the third person in the early part of the poem to the first person. Control of the story begins to slip away as the narration is split into two: the mariner, in telling his tale, only delivers the information that he wants to tell. Yet, as the narration shifts into the third person, other details regarding the events on the ship and the disturbed reactions of the listener emerge (Coleridge, Line 31, 40). Further, as the story of the events progresses, it becomes obvious that the titular mariner is haunted by his killing of the albatross and he seems to find relief in telling the story to others, hypnotizing listens to the horror and trapping them in his despair. The narrative structuring of Coleridge’s poem symbolizes the lack of control that the characters within the story have over their fate and lives. Regarding Jaws, there is a similar occurrence of a story-within-the-story as Captain Quint tells the story of the disastrous events upon the USS Indianapolis and cruelness of the sea. Based upon true events, Quint establishes his tumultuous and haunting relationship with the unpredictable sea and the uncontrollable forces that lurk beneath. It is through the melancholic and strangely beautiful delivery of events that sets the tone and foreshadows what is to come, as well as man’s inability to conquer the sea. The narrative devices implemented in both Coleridge’s major poem and Jaws create a feeling of close personal intimacy: the stories seem like folklore, passed down from one person to another, both seeming to be morality tales. The fate of all characters involved in both pieces is often pre-determined and unchangeable.
One of the most striking and symbolic commonalities between the film Jaws and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the central focus in each on an animal. The animals in both hold special symbolic meaning. Notably, both animals are of impressive size, striking both awe and fear in the men who look upon them in each tale. The size is representative of the lack of mankind’s control when dealing with forces of nature. In Coleridge’s poem, the albatross is representative of the fine line between stability and chaos. The killing of the large sea bird and the fallout that follows is the result of what occurs when the line is crossed. The albatross is a mythical and unexplainable force, and following its killing, the men aboard the ship that stormy night are “met with divine retribution” (Judson). The men on board the ship had prescribed meaning onto the bird, believing the wind and their luck to be associated with the albatross (Coleridge, Line 71). However, once the bird is shot by the old mariner with a crossbow and the fate of the sailors becomes increasingly dire and grim, the sea bird comes to signify punishment by forces, likely supernatural, beyond the control of the characters. The sailors force the mariner to be constantly reminded of his impulsive, momentary decision. “Instead of the cross, the Albatross / About my neck was hung” (Coleridge, Lines 141-142). It is after appreciating and understanding the untamable power of nature that the mariner is finally relieved of his sins and then the albatross falls off his neck. The great white shark, stalking the waters off Amity Island, arrives during the Fourth of July festivities, causing chaos and threatening to dismantle the order of the town. Those who enter the water, the shark’s domain, meet their demise in a horrifying manner. There is no clear understanding of why the shark has gone rogue or has chosen the particular location it did to conduct its rampage. The characters, whose theories on the reasoning of the shark, whether scientific or folkloric, are left unanswered. There is no explicit reason as to why. Forces of nature cannot be understood. Similar in power and meaning to the albatross in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the shark arrives when characters in the film attempt to control nature. In Jaws, this attempted control of nature occurs through the villainous Mayor Vaughn’s commodification of the beach for the holiday. The Mayor himself resembles the loathsome Great White shark in many ways: he is ruthless, hungry for superiority, and destroys the lives of many in Amity by keeping the beaches open, despite the numerous gruesome attacks and mounting problem. The Mayor is complicit with the shark and allows the animal to continue its killing spree. Through the Mayor’s greedy decision, Amity descends into a sort of frenzy; hunting and killing sharks with vigor in real-life and in video games. The incidents of mass shark hunting only further the idea that the shark is a perhaps, like the albatross, a punishment for abusing and attempting to control nature.
Following the killing of the albatross, during a “weary time,” (Coleridge, Line 143), Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s major poem begins to take on a notable supernatural quality (Line 157). Yet, even before the mariner begins his tale, there is an eeriness that lurks even in the opening lines. The appearance of the narrator, described by the wedding guest as a “grey-beard loon,” (Line 11), seems to resemble a creature of the supernatural. It is later in the poem that the reality and truth become hazy. Forced for seven days and seven nights to look upon the dead faces of his fellow sailors (Lines 253-262), the mariner must contend with his actions, yet he does not perish, his penance seeming otherworldly. Even before Death makes an appearance, there is a foreboding sense that something is amiss. The fog and the ice symbolize the cold, lifelessness ahead (Lines 58-64). Further, the personification of the ice and nature demonstrates the vengeance and strength of nature: “The ice was all around/ It crack’d and growl’d, and roar’d and howl’d/ Like noises in a swound” (Line 60-62). The eeriness that Death’s embodiment evokes adds to the mystical, mythological quality of the poem. The mystery and horror, as well as the entire otherworldly and separate feeling, only further adds to the aforementioned folkloric quality of the poem. The poem, stylistically, resembles a tale passed down from person to person. The fate of the titular mariner lies upon a thin line, dependent on a game of dice between Death and the beautiful Death-in-Life (Line 196), and even though the personified Death does not win, the mariner is forced to live the rest of his life with the burden of his actions, and the forever knowledge of the close relationship of life and death. The crew aboard the doomed ship attribute the natural movements of the ocean and wave patterns, as well as the changes in weather to supernatural or divine forces, still not fully accepting the power of nature (Line 65-66). Instead, they believe that there must be something they cannot understand controlling the events. Therefore, the mariner and the crew must learn to respect nature and God’s creatures and accept the superior power of nature and its creatures, as well as understand the grave danger that arises if a person attempts to understand or conquer these forces. “The other was a softer voice/As soft as honey-dew/Quoth he, ‘The man hath penance done/ And penance more will do” (Lines 406-409).
Whereas the supernatural elements of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are at the forefront of the poem, Jaws also deals with otherworldly and unexplainable events. The shark itself appears to possess a distinct knowledge of the chaos it has created, and knowledge of when and where to appear to wreak the most havoc. At one point, after the shark swims underneath the boat, Quint remarks, “he’s a smart…fish” (1:17.42), slowly understanding that there is something remarkably different about this shark. The shark is endowed strange, frightening abilities that seem to make the Great White far too intelligent and calculating to be a normal shark. For instance, during one notable attack in an estuary, the shark tips over a small boat and then circles back around, a scene that not only maximizes suspense, but displays the massive size of the creature, just below the surface of the water, and still somewhat concealed. The sheer size of the shark propels the animal into mythic, alien territory: neither Hooper, a marine biologist nor Quint, a seasoned shark hunter, have ever witnessed a shark even close to the size of the shark hunting humans along the New England coast. In addition, the shark is resistant to bullets, the harpoons deployed, as well as numerous other injuries that would normally prove to be fatal to other sharks. The shark, at first, appears to be indestructible, a force that cannot be stopped and is much more than a single-minded animal. Quint’s famous and haunting monologue further mythologizes the shark as a supernatural force: “You know the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at you, doesn’t seem to be living. Until he bites you and those black eyes roll over white…” (1:31.00-1:31.22). Not only does the quotation establish Quint’s relationship with sharks, but the dialogue also evokes an image of an evil and uncontrollable shark. Through his story, Quint releases and shares the trauma of what he witnessed during the disaster, not unlike the mariner relating his story to the wedding guest, both looking for some sort of catharsis. As the shark, possibly finishing what the sharks of the USS Indianapolis disaster could not, finally attacks and kills Quint, somewhat spectacularly so, it becomes obvious that the shark of Jaws is different from any other. Perhaps the shark punishment for Amity Island’s greed, and inability to appreciate the natural beauty of the ocean, without monetizing it. Through this lens, the shark is penance, like the albatross of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, forcing the residents to redeem themselves of their sins of attempting to control the natural world. Once human control is stripped away, the residents of Amity Island must recognize that they are truly powerless when it comes to the ocean and what lurks beneath. The supernatural power of the shark demonstrates the fragility of society and class, and the utter chaos that ensues when these structures ultimately fail by the far greater force of the natural world.
Both The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Jaws are both Romantic, folkloric tales that share a commonality of men going to sea and encountering natural forces that cannot be explained, eliciting feelings of both awe and fear. Within Coleridge’s poem, questions arise regarding the reliability of the narrator and whether or not the account of the events he speaks of can be trusted. By framing the tale of the mariner and the mysterious events onboard the ship as a story-within-a-story, the poem resembles a morality tale. The lesson of the albatross and the guilt that the mariner feels act as a lesson for readers to always control and appreciate the forces that are out of man’s control. Further, there is a lesson regarding impulsivity and the effects that rash decisions can have. The mariner has learned his lesson, but he is forced to bear the price of his sin forever, even though the albatross no longer hangs around his neck. While the killing of the albatross was an impulsive and thoughtless choice, in Jaws, the killing of the shark, while is not exactly planned, is far more planned with the knowledge that good will be restored upon killing the animal. This is a crucial difference between the two, maritime, tales. Chief Brody and the other men aboard the Orca understand that the shark must be killed for peace to be restored in Amity Island and the structures of power and class can be put back into place. Jaws too implements elements of classic morality tales. The greed and villainy of the Mayor and the subsequent events that follow his choice to keep the beaches open solely for profit highlight the sin of monetizing natural beauty and structures. Further, the chaos that ultimately ensues reveals the fragility of structures that are believed to maintain societal control. Both the albatross and the massive Great White sharks of both pieces of media teach the characters of each to appreciate the natural world as well as the supernatural, unexplainable elements associated. The blank, seemingly endless waters of both Jaws and The Rime of the Ancent Mariner act as a canvas, providing a dangerous opportunity for the characters to try to paint the sea with their own ideas. Yet, as each story demonstrates, it becomes apparent that mankind is no match for the power of nature, and even when power is attempted to be enacted over the sea, the sea proves to be superior.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner As a Parable Romantic Literature
The poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a poem about an ancient mariner who is repenting what he did one time. This man was on a voyage to Antarctica with many other sailors when one day they become stuck in the ice. This is problematic as the ship needs to move or else everyone on board will eventually die of lack of food or water. An albatross flies by the ship soon after the ship becomes stuck and it appears to be a guardian to the ship and all of the men on board it. Once the albatross appears, the ship miraculously starts to move and things are looking good for the ship. This keeps going on for several days until the ancient mariner just shoots it with his crossbow, killing it instantly. The poem progresses with what happens to the mariner and the crew after killing their “guardian.” This poem could read as a parable and also has many characteristics within it of romantic literature.
The poem goes on after the albatross is killed but it takes a turn for the worse. The whole crew of the ship dies quickly except for the mariner. He is the only survivor and now that the ship’s guardian has been killed, the ship becomes stuck once again but this time near the equator where it is very hot. One stanza within part three says,
“With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! A sail!”
This stanza shows that it is so hot that the men can’t even speak because they have become so burnt due to the intensity of the sun and that they need their own blood to speak. This also shows that the men could be getting punished for killing what was saving them. The albatross could have been a gift from God to return the men to safety and the mariner killed it for no reason. He killed one of God’s creations for no reason and thus is now being punished. The ancient mariner is basically tortured on the ship. The whole crew sees an evil ship which represents death and in turn all of the men except the mariner die one by one. The mariner also sees some supernatural occurrences go on around him while he is alone. He hears two voices in the night and one of them says, “The man hath penance done, and penance more will do.” This quote says that the mariner caused all of this to happen and he must repent his sins and ask for forgiveness. The mariner continues to remain on the ship for seven days. Then one day he is looking in the ocean and admires the creatures in the sea at which point the albatross falls off of his neck and sinks in the ocean. A boat soon appears and he is rescued. The mariner finally started to show care for God’s creations and he was saved. This poem is a parable because it was simple and it did teach a valuable life lesson which is to show care for God’s creations and to not harm them because they were not created for that purpose. People need to show care and compassion for things in life to show God that they truly care.
This poem also shows a large amount of characteristics of the average romantic literature piece. Romantic literature pieces often include things such as supernatural, strange and faraway places, and love of nature. Almost all of this poem is set in nature. It takes place on a ship and all around the ship is water. Several times throughout the poem it describes the water- both how it looks beautiful and how it looks evil. Storms and wind are also present a lot within this poem. The wind represents good as that is what makes the ship move back to shore. The natural things in the earth are greatly described within the poem such as the ice when they are first stuck. The quote, “And now there came both mist and snow. And it grew wondrous cold; And ice, mast-high, came floating by, as green as emerald” shows how the beauty of nature is focused upon. Far and strange places is a requirement that is met because the ship first starts off near the South Pole which is far away from home and then travels up toward the equator which is also far away and acts as a strange area of the world. There are many instances within this poem that there is supernatural. There is the ghost ship that contains death and the Life-in-Death, all of the men on the ship die one by one, the albatross acting as a “guardian” and the ship sinking as the mariner is being rescued. The quote in Part Three saying, “One after one, by the star-dogged Moon, too quick for groan or sigh, each turned his face with a ghastly pang, and cursed me with his eye.” is showing how each of the men knew he caused their death and that they wanted to give him one last evil look before dying. The most supernatural thing that happens is when the crew rises from the dead. Angels incarnate them and all of the dead men rise but their souls are gone so it is not really them. All of these characteristics are what makes a piece of writing fall into the romantic literature category.
The poem written Samuel Taylor Coleridge entitled “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is one that can be considered romantic literature and it contains a parable which is to care for things on the planet and don’t waste them. It is romantic literature because it contains the supernatural, faraway places and it describes nature while showing love for it. The moral of this story is a valuable one and should be used in everyday life. People need to show care for the earth that God created for us and not trash it like today in modern society. People need to take this lesson and apply it to their own life each day.
Dream-Like Qualities in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Explore the dream-like qualities in Kubla Khan. In your answer, explore the author’s use of language, imagery and verse form.
Kubla Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are two very distinctive poems by Coleridge: Kubla Khan, a shorter poem in comparison to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, involves a dreamy tone while The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has a suspenseful tone. Regardless of their differences, there are relations that can be made between the two poems. They both have vivid imageries that cause the reader to view each poem for their own language techniques, rhythm and context. In this essay, I will be focusing on some of many of Coleridge’s techniques that entice the reader.
Firstly, in the poem of Kubla Khan, Coleridge crafts dream- like qualities fluently through each stanza that become recognisable to the reader. In stanza one, Coleridge describes the scenery of the setting of the poem, Xanadu. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza being ABAABCCDEDE, gives a staggering rhythm. Coleridge describes the river as being ‘measureless to man’. The word ‘measureless’ implies that a human wouldn’t have the ability to recognise the true length of the river. To emphasise this, Coleridge then adds, ‘Down to a sunless sea’. This suggests further that the river is very long as it leads to a sunless sea that hasn’t been witnessed by man because it’s the depths of the river. This adds to the dream-like quality of the poem because the imagery of a never-ending river with flowing water, it can be recognised as a meditative object which makes it appear dreamy.
An opposite use of descriptive language is then incorporated to the poem as Coleridge goes from describing darkness to bright objects: ‘And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills…’ The garden being described as ‘bright’ and ‘sinuous’, this is a dreamy fantasy, sinuous meaning curves and turns, this hints at a hallucination type of dream that is being experienced. This can be an ideology of what Coleridge could’ve been presenting as he had a drug addiction of Opium. Coleridge was a frequent user of opium as a relaxant, analgesic, antidepressant, and also a treatment for several other health problems he had. With this in consideration, this could suggest that as Coleridge was suffering an illness at the time of this poem, and he was known for his drug taking, the reader can view the descriptions in a way that no sane individual would as they will acknowledge his mental state of his drug addiction.
A dream-like quality that can also be perceived as a hallucination, is in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, part 6, in the stanza, Coleridge writes about an angel standing over the dead bodies: ‘A man all light, a seraph- man, On every corse there stood’. Coleridge, being an individual who was focused on religion, he has incorporated this in the poem as well as interpreting something that can also be viewed as a psychedelic scene.
Coleridge’s literary movement was romanticism, and in Kubla Khan this can identified: ‘By woman waiting for her demon-lover!’ This quotation involves a combination of horror and romance. The description of this woman’s lover as a demon implies that whoever this woman has fallen in love with, he is some type of evil entity that she has unintentionally or accidently fallen for. This adds to the romance of the poem because the quotation is based on the love of the woman but Coleridge has done this in a way that can leave several ideas of what this demon- lover is really like.
To conclude, Coleridge uses a wide variety of techniques which contribute to the poem including dream-like qualities. Coleridge has definitely entwined the realities of the natural world while adding parts that he may have experienced himself while going through his drug addiction. I believe that he has done this because he has captured images for the readers that are very imaginative so they can be interpreted widely.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner vs Frankenstein: Character Choices, Themes, Storylines
The Correlations Between Frankenstein and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
As a child, Mary Shelley stayed up late listening to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s horrific poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” This may be why Shelley’s Frankenstein parallels Coleridge’s poem in character choice, theme, and storyline. Victor and The Mariner both commit a moral crime, and must realise the gravity of their consequences. Their past experiences root a personal objective; to share their struggles in hopes of teaching a valuable lesson.
Victor and The Mariner have the ability to strongly engage and alter a person with their convincing woes. When Walton sails the seas and comes across Victor, he seems to have the inability to turn away from the story of Victor’s misfortunes. Walton “felt great eagerness to hear the promised narrative, partly from curiosity, and partly from a strong desire to ameliorate his fate.” Walton not only wants to know the content of Victor’s adversity, but better Victor’s destiny. The Mariner also has a way of intriguing a Wedding Guest by “[holding] him with his glittering eye. The Wedding Guest stood still… he beat his breast, yet he cannot choose but hear.” The Mariner seems to hypnotise the Wedding Guest. With their powerful magnetism, both Victor and The Mariner leave their listeners with a changed outlook. After hearing Victor’s story, Walton turns away from this polar explorations. He realises that his quest for knowledge is not worth the potential turbulence. Concurrently, the Wedding Guest becomes “a sadder and a wiser man,” after listening to The Mariner’s story. Walton and the Wedding Guest are internally changed after hearing the story-tellers’ misadventures.
The stories of both Victor and The Mariner entail careless deeds that have many horrible reciprocations. Victor creates a creature from the remains of other bodies. When this creature comes to life, Victor abandons it. Not only does Victor become extremely ill after this occurrence, but the creature ends up killing Victor’s own brother. Comparably, The Mariner kills an Albatross, that has been circling his ship for many days. The Albatross is religiously known to be a good omen. Once The Mariner uses his crossbow to end the Albatross’ life, “every tongue, through utter drought, was withered at the root… water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Along with thirst and drought, storms raging with harsh winds, fog and mist hit The Mariner’s ship as well. Eventually, The Mariner’s whole crew withers into hovering ghosts. The consequences of both deeds are very extreme.
Victor and The Mariner have both gone through horrible circumstances but believe they lived through them for a reason; to teach a lesson. With their intense ability to captivate, Victor and The Mariner have changed their listeners in a mind-altering way. They could not have achieved such perspective modification without their tales of affliction and sorrow. When writing Frankenstein, Mary Shelley was undoubtedly influenced by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Coleridge’s Failure to Achieve Unity in Rime of the Ancient Mariner
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a striking example of how Samuel Taylor Coleridge failed to attain his vision of perfect poetic unity. The work in question leaves the reader with unanswered questions regarding its stated moral, its failure to adequately account for the reasoning behind its central action, and its vacillation regarding the mariner’s supposed atonement. Coleridge famously sought unity in life and art, yet in this poem he is remarkably unable to produce any semblance of such. He does, however, succeed in telling a story that instantly grabs the attention of the reader and sustains her attention long after the poem has been initially digested.
Attaining unity within the poem is impossible primarily because it lacks a unifying moral to explain the appalling events taking place on the ship as described by the guilt-stricken mariner himself. The mariner’s states the moral for what has taken place in this way: “He prayeth well who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast. / He prayeth best who lovest best / All things both great and small, / For the dear God who loveth us, / He made and loveth all” (612-617). This moral explanation seems far too pat and simplistic to account for the harrowing events that have taken place and for the mariner’s exceptional sense of guilt. What kind of God would kill off the innocent, the mariner’s shipmates, instead of the one guilty of killing the albatross? What kind of “morality” is this? To what kind of God is the mariner referring? No satisfying unity exists between the mariner’s final reflections and the sin and guilt that led him to that moral conclusion.
This lack of unity puts into question the poem’s entire meaning. Does the moral belong to Coleridge or only to the mariner? The author’s marginal glosses confound the question, as he echoes the morals as explained by the mariner; for instance: “…and to teach by his own example love and reverence to all things that God made and loveth.” The reader knows this is not the mariner speaking, so she can tentatively assume it to be Coleridge himself. If this is the case, then it is Coleridge offering the simplistic moral put forward by the mariner at the end of the poem; if true, this suggests that Coleridge was perhaps a lesser intellectual and poet than commonly believed. Creating a complex and highly entertaining story only to explain it sophomorically is not what one would expect of a a true literary great.
However, other lapses of unity within the poem suggest that Coleridge may have still been in the process of writing the poem upon its publication, that it was merely published before he was able to conclude it more satisfactorily. For instance, the poem’s central event is never explained. As far as the reader can tell, the mariner’s decision to kill the albatross – traditionally regarded as a harbinger of good fortune for sailors – was an arbitrary one. This defining moment is described in just one and a half lines (“‘With my crossbow / I shot the albatross” (81-82)), as if Coleridge wanted to hurry beyond the story’s climax towards a deep exploration of its moral consequences. Without this kind of reflection, the reader cannot understand why so much death and psychic injury follows what apears to be a rather mundane trespass. One cannot appreciate the full weight of the mariner’s crime, nor care much about the mariner and his guilt at all, without knowing more about the mariner, his moral character and motivations. Coleridge fails to unite the crime adequately with its consequences; one learns of the death and guilt that follow without understanding why the action merits such punishment.
The mariner’s quest for deliverance also demonstrates the lack of unity within the poem. After his blessing of the water-snakes, the mariner symbolically casts off his sin. “The self-same moment I could pray, / And from my neck so free / The albatross fell off and sank / Like lead into the sea” (288-291). Despite this supposed respite from his guilt, however, the mariner is still not done paying for his crime. “The man hath penance done / And penance more will do” (408-409). Even though he no longer must carry with him the burden of the albatross, he has not yet paid in full for his sins. Coleridge notes on the side that “The curse is finally expiated,” suggesting conclusion, but the mariner must continue to circle the globe, re-telling his story in what appears to be a vain attempt to achieve salvation. Great discontinuity exists between the mariner’s supposed release from culpability and his compulsion to continue telling his tale.
Coleridge’s desire for unity is firmly rejected in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Unresolved questions leave the reader dissatisfied with the poem despite the work’s strong qualities, e.g. plot, rhyme, and meter. The disconnect between successful components and failed ones is itself evidence for the poem’s lack of unity. Ultimately, the poem lacks enough harmony for the reader to make even an attempt at judging it a success or failure overall.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Addresses Humanity’s Relationship to the Natural World
To the same extent that the Ancient Mariner entrances the Wedding-Guest with his ‘glittering eye,’ Samuel Taylor Coleridge sought to draw his audience in to The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere (1798). The poem, written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is constructed using various elements associated with the traditional ballad form of poetry. These elements, including the literary form the words take, the narrative style and the subject matter encourage the reader to associate the content with pre-modernity. However it is through the allegorical aspect of the ballad form that the ambiguity of emphasis on both modernity and pre-modernity in relation to nature is most pronounced. A later version of the poem further expands upon this, but simultaneously changes the nature of this relationship.
In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1834), the final revision of the poem, many differences to the original are evident. As an effect of modernising the archaic diction, adding marginal glosses and omitting certain passages, Coleridge largely removed the pre-modern critique of society. In turn, a moral interpretation is imposed on the reader. By assessing the differences between the two ballads, the idea that nature is above human perception is evident. It is in this vein that Coleridge not only addresses, but enacts, humanity’s relationship with the natural world in the nineteenth century.
The Ancyent Marinere (1798) is written distinctly in the form of the traditional ballad. By adhering to certain strictures typical of the ballad form, the poem places emphasis on the past. This looks back to the Western folklore culture and explicitly attributes its themes to pre-modernity. The literary form used by the Ancyent Marinere (1798) is based loosely on short ballad stanzas and a regular rhyme scheme:
The wedding-guest sate on a stone,
He cannot chuse but hear:
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Marinere.
The effect of the heavily accented syllables and pronounced rhyme scheme produces a chant-like effect that ‘draws the reader in’ just as the wedding guest was. The diction, exemplified above in the words ‘sate’ ‘chuse’ and ‘Marinere’ were archaic even in the nineteenth century. Through this structure, the poem shares an affinity with the traditional ballad form, which was passed on orally from ‘listener to listener, culture to culture.’
More characteristics of the ballad are displayed in the style of narrative that is used. In the Ancyent Marinere (1798) minimal descriptive detail in setting and characters is given. A ‘long grey beard and … glittering eye’ are the only traits of the Mariner which are commented on, even the characters’ names, the ‘Ancient Mariner’ and ‘the wedding-guest,’ are vague. In describing only the immediate action within the Mariner’s story, Coleridge opens the poem up to the reader’s interpretation. This quality further likened the Ancyent Marinere (1798) to the traditional form of the ballad. Using this traditional form, each speaker would impress upon the ballad his or her own personal vision of the story.
The subject matter of the nautical, the supernatural and superstition associated with the ballad form was utilised by Coleridge as he critiqued both pre-modernity and modernity within the Rime of the Ancyent Marinere (1798). Coleridge achieved this through exploiting the ambiguous nature of these themes, which he conveyed through imagery and allegory.
The nautical theme is not only typical of the traditional ballads and therefore encouraging of a view of a pre-modern era, but it also alludes to the maritime expansion occurring during the nineteenth century. This nautical theme is shown through diction which is actually a fusion of words from travel books, traditional ballads and the works of Chaucer, Spenser and Chatterton. As people mobilised, they became more detached from their backgrounds. In conjunction with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, respect for nature was changing as people of the nineteenth century placed value on the evolving technology and transport.
When the ship is stranded in the ocean and the Mariner recalls “Alone, alone, all all alone/ Alone on the wide wide Sea” Coleridge implies how vulnerable humanity is in relation to the natural world. This was to comment on the growing view of man’s superiority over nature. This example is one way in which the ballad sets ambiguous morals critiquing both pre-modernity and modernity.
This ambiguity in interpretation of the moral develops further through the themes of superstition and the supernatural, which are also themes consistent with the traditional form of the ballad. The Ancient Mariner (1798) creates this effect through the allegory of the albatross.
Through the Mariner’s superstitious conceptualisation of the albatross, the allegory is directed at the unreliable superstitions of pre-modernity. The relationship between the albatross and the people on the ship is also a metaphor for the relationship between all of humanity and the natural world in Coleridge’s time. This conflicting relationship was evident in modernity as the Industrial Revolution conflicted with the ideology of the Romantic movement in the nineteenth century. The albatross is initially ‘hail’d in God’s name’ as it breaks through the ice surrounding the ship. It is then mistaken for ‘the fiends that plague thee thus’ and shot by the Mariner. He then admits to having done ‘an hellish thing’ as he had ‘killed the Bird/ that made the Breeze to blow,’ the breeze being the saviour which released the boat from the ice. This view of nature is further complicated as the people aboard the ship proclaim ”Twas right… such birds to slay/ That bring the fog and mist’ as the sun comes out. This changing attitude towards the albatross, which is quite removed from the events attributed to it, is representative of the capricious relationship humanity had with the natural world in and the nineteenth century.
It is also notable it was the breeze that caused ‘The Ice [to] split with a Thunder-fit.’ Coleridge implies that only nature can contend with the natural world. Although the men on the ship conceptualise the bird as the yielder of power over events, the reader can see that not one solitary part of nature that reigns supreme. Rather the conditions are controlled by forces of nature in a way that is beyond human conception. It is through this idea that the ability for nature to be viewed as something to be feared and awe-inspiring simultaneously is explained.
It can be concluded that The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere (1798) uses the traditional form of the ballad as a vehicle to highlight the capricious relationship between humanity and the natural world in Coleridge’s time and that of pre-modernity. However, Coleridge did not stop there. Between 1800 and 1834 he published a further five versions. By the sixth publication, the archaic diction had been modernised, marginal glosses were added and various other parts of the poem were changed. This final version of the poem is entitled The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1834) The result of these revisions is that the ambiguity in meaning of the poem is altered.
After the publication of the initial Rime of the Ancyent Marinere (1798) critics made comment on the deviance of the Ancyent Marinere (1798) from the conventions of the time and the characteristics of the imminent Romantic era. In order to conform to the cultural norms Coleridge modernised the language. ‘The Marineres gave it biscuit-worms/ And round and round it flew’ was changed to ‘It ate the food it ne’er had eat/ And round and round it flew.’ The modernised spelling and vocabulary changed the degree of ambiguity in the Ancient Mariner (1834) as it toned done the emphasis on pre-modernity. It minimised the strangeness and grotesqueness of the poem. The Ancient Mariner (1834) omits certain lines for this reason also. ‘His bones were black with many a crack/ All black and bare, I ween’ becomes ‘A gust of wind sterte up behind/ And whistled thro’ his bones.’ The latter version is less typical of the ballad form and reflects the more natural and less grotesque elements associated with Romanticism. While it still conformed to the traditional ballad form, the removal of the archaic diction made the emphasis on a critique of nineteenth century much more explicit.
The most prominent difference between the two versions of the poem was the addition of marginal glosses to the Ancient Mariner (1834). By adding these glosses, an interpretation of the moral was imposed upon the poem. There has been much discussion about this addition over the years. There was a great deal of pressure placed on Coleridge to adhere more to the stylistic tendencies of Romanticism.
The first gloss decribes the wedding guests as ‘three gallants.’ This imposes a prejudice upon the characters in defining their clothing and social class. In offering a description of characters and circumstances in this more explicit manner, the reader’s judgement is shaped accordingly and therefore room for ambiguity in moral or interpretation is diminished. This is substantiated by the view that ‘the activity of the reader’s eye, skipping back and forth between the margin and the text, performs the work once left to the imagination.’
It is therefore apparent that in examining the different approaches to the traditional form of the ballad between the Ancyent Marinere (1798) and the Ancient Mariner (1834) that different morals are implied. In the first version, through its strict adherence to the traditional ballad form, an ambiguous critique of pre-modernity and modernity is insinuated. However it is through the final version of the poem humanity’s relationship to nature in the nineteenth century is revealed. In adapting the original Ancyent Marinere (1798) five times in response to criticism, Coleridge changes the moral within his poem and unwittingly enforces his own critique of humanity – that of man’s fickle relationship with it. From the different ways nature is portrayed, for example, through the metaphor of the albatross, through man’s relationship with it in response to the Industrial Revolution, and through the fact that Coleridge published six adaptations of the poem it is evident that nature is beyond human perception.
Coleridge’s Failure to Achieve Unity in Rime of the Ancient Mariner
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a striking example of how Samuel Taylor Coleridge failed to attain his vision of perfect poetic unity. The work in question leaves the reader with unanswered questions regarding its stated moral, its failure to adequately account for the reasoning behind its central action, and its vacillation regarding the mariner’s supposed atonement. Coleridge famously sought unity in life and art, yet in this poem he is remarkably unable to produce any semblance of such. He does, however, succeed in telling a story that instantly grabs the attention of the reader and sustains her attention long after the poem has been initially digested. Attaining unity within the poem is impossible primarily because it lacks a unifying moral to explain the appalling events taking place on the ship as described by the guilt-stricken mariner himself. The mariner’s states the moral for what has taken place in this way: “He prayeth well who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast. / He prayeth best who lovest best / All things both great and small, / For the dear God who loveth us, / He made and loveth all” (612-617). This moral explanation seems far too pat and simplistic to account for the harrowing events that have taken place and for the mariner’s exceptional sense of guilt. What kind of God would kill off the innocent, the mariner’s shipmates, instead of the one guilty of killing the albatross? What kind of “morality” is this? To what kind of God is the mariner referring? No satisfying unity exists between the mariner’s final reflections and the sin and guilt that led him to that moral conclusion.This lack of unity puts into question the poem’s entire meaning. Does the moral belong to Coleridge or only to the mariner? The author’s marginal glosses confound the question, as he echoes the morals as explained by the mariner; for instance: “…and to teach by his own example love and reverence to all things that God made and loveth.” The reader knows this is not the mariner speaking, so she can tentatively assume it to be Coleridge himself. If this is the case, then it is Coleridge offering the simplistic moral put forward by the mariner at the end of the poem; if true, this suggests that Coleridge was perhaps a lesser intellectual and poet than commonly believed. Creating a complex and highly entertaining story only to explain it sophomorically is not what one would expect of a a true literary great. However, other lapses of unity within the poem suggest that Coleridge may have still been in the process of writing the poem upon its publication, that it was merely published before he was able to conclude it more satisfactorily. For instance, the poem’s central event is never explained. As far as the reader can tell, the mariner’s decision to kill the albatross – traditionally regarded as a harbinger of good fortune for sailors – was an arbitrary one. This defining moment is described in just one and a half lines (“‘With my crossbow / I shot the albatross” (81-82)), as if Coleridge wanted to hurry beyond the story’s climax towards a deep exploration of its moral consequences. Without this kind of reflection, the reader cannot understand why so much death and psychic injury follows what apears to be a rather mundane trespass. One cannot appreciate the full weight of the mariner’s crime, nor care much about the mariner and his guilt at all, without knowing more about the mariner, his moral character and motivations. Coleridge fails to unite the crime adequately with its consequences; one learns of the death and guilt that follow without understanding why the action merits such punishment. The mariner’s quest for deliverance also demonstrates the lack of unity within the poem. After his blessing of the water-snakes, the mariner symbolically casts off his sin. “The self-same moment I could pray, / And from my neck so free / The albatross fell off and sank / Like lead into the sea” (288-291). Despite this supposed respite from his guilt, however, the mariner is still not done paying for his crime. “The man hath penance done / And penance more will do” (408-409). Even though he no longer must carry with him the burden of the albatross, he has not yet paid in full for his sins. Coleridge notes on the side that “The curse is finally expiated,” suggesting conclusion, but the mariner must continue to circle the globe, re-telling his story in what appears to be a vain attempt to achieve salvation. Great discontinuity exists between the mariner’s supposed release from culpability and his compulsion to continue telling his tale. Coleridge’s desire for unity is firmly rejected in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Unresolved questions leave the reader dissatisfied with the poem despite the work’s strong qualities, e.g. plot, rhyme, and meter. The disconnect between successful components and failed ones is itself evidence for the poem’s lack of unity. Ultimately, the poem lacks enough harmony for the reader to make even an attempt at judging it a success or failure overall.
Fusing Confessional and Pulpit: Analysis of a Romantic Ballad
As a time that marked radical changes in the way that poetry was written, the Romantic period of English Literature produced many works still celebrated and studied today. It was during this period that Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote one of the most noteworthy works of English literature, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The following paper will explore the structure and subject matter of this chilling ballad of supernatural penance for atrocities committed at sea as they relate to the Romantic period of English literature. It will also reveal the two major themes of the work, equal treatment and guilt, and how they relate to the poet’s own life, as well as to the political and social changes taking place during this turbulent period in English history.The structure of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is similar to other Romantic poems in several ways. First, it is a ballad, a poetic genre that rose to a major literary form during the Romantic period. Coleridge combines strong end-rhymes, primarily following an abcb rhyme scheme with internal rhymes, with a ballad meter of alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. This causes the poem to be read much as traditional oral ballads were sung. The following stanza provides an example: “The sun came up upon the left, / Out of the sea came he! / And he shone bright, and on the right / Went down into the sea” (25-28). The musical quality provided to the poem through its rhyme and meter keeps the reader’s attention by setting it apart from the dull rhythm of everyday speech. It also makes the poem flow smoothly, thereby making it easier to read. Coleridge’s removal of the archaic spellings that dominated the work when it first appeared in “Lyrical Ballads” also adds to its reading ease (Abrams 1580). Coleridge may have originally used these spellings in accordance with the Romantic theme of Medieval Revival, and then later deleted them because their difficulty detracted from the poem’s meaning. He also added glosses written in 17th century English, as demonstrated by his attachment of the “-eth” suffix to the verbs in the following line: “And lo! The Albatross proveth a bird of good omen, and followeth the ship” (71-73). The language of these glosses does not detract from the poem’s meaning, as the lexicon and syntax of this language would have been familiar to Coleridge’s audience. However, it does fulfill the author’s original intention with the archaic spellings by placing the reader in a faraway place and time, adding credibility to the supernatural and imaginative elements that are introduced later.Romantic poets also frequently wrote using first-person narratives. For the majority of Coleridge’s poem, the mariner offers a first-person account of what he faced at sea. Coleridge does, however, stray slightly from this format by providing us with a listener in the poem and a separate third-person story that allows us to witness this listener’s reactions. The addition of the story context may be attributed to Coleridge’s need to place the reader in the familiar joyful setting of a wedding, a setting that contrasts significantly with the dark tale he reveals. It also allows Coleridge to identify both narrator and listener, while allowing the reader, to whom the moral of Coleridge’s poem is addressed, to identify with the latter. The reader can identify with this listener’s feelings of fear towards the narrator and discomfort at his tale, as well as sympathize with his irritation at being taken from an atmosphere of joy and placed in a sobering atmosphere of vicarious misery. The mariner only stops one of three potential listeners, but doesn’t reveal the reason for his choice until the poem has nearly ended: “That moment that his face I see, / I know the man that must hear me: / To him my tale I teach” (588-590). This man has been individually singled out, and the reader consequently feels singled out to receive Coleridge’s moral as a consequence of his or her earlier identification with this character. Like its structure, the subject matter of the poem is common to the period in which it was written. During the Romantic period, poetry began to include less pure imitation, and more imagination (Abrams 1319). Coleridge’s poem demonstrates this imaginative quality by lacing a nautical tale with supernatural characters and events. He reveals the supernatural nature of his poem early on by having the mariner hypnotize the wedding guest, as demonstrated in the following lines: “The Mariner hath his will…He cannot choose but hear” (16, 18). Other supernatural elements, including a skeleton ship driven by Death and Life-in-Death, vengeful spirits and seraph-men, and curses continually appear throughout the remainder of the poem. In the following example, Coleridge describes the dead crew rising like zombies to aid their shipmate: “They raised their limbs like lifeless tools–/ We were a ghastly crew” (339-340). This example demonstrates Coleridge’s ability to describe these imaginative elements with what seems to the reader as chilling accuracy, relying on simple but colorful language to give these elements credibility. Another subject frequently treated by Romantic poets is that of nature: the landscape as a whole is personified, and parts of it are granted great significance on spiritual and other levels. By setting the poem at sea with major roles given to the weather and animals, Coleridge immerses his reader in the natural world. The following stanza shows Coleridge’s use of descriptive language to help his reader envision that landscape: “And now there came both mist and snow,/ And it grew wondrous cold:/ And ice, mast-high, came floating by,/ As green as emerald” (51-54). The descriptions of weather throughout the poem frequently set the mood and dictate events. The reader can envision the danger that awaits the narrator and his crew by the description of the ice and mist. Later, the hot sun and burning sea play a role in the agony and dehydration of the crew. The sea, depicted as expansive and silent, adds to the narrator’s isolation after he alone is chosen for Life-in-Death as payment for his crimes. Coleridge demonstrates the important role that nature plays in his poem by giving it human characteristics. Early in the narrative the sun is described as “he” rather than “it”: “Out of the sea came he!” (26). While it appears as though this personification may have been a consequence of merely needing a word to rhyme, it is continued throughout the poem, even where it does not offer that advantage. A few lines later, Coleridge compares the sound of the storm to that of a roaring beast. Through his use of personification, we are able to see the significance of nature, its effects on us, and our interactions with it. Animals, in particular, are granted a spiritual significance. The Albatross, when first described, is hailed by the characters “as if it had been a Christian soul” (65). This bird dines with, plays with, and keeps company with the members of the crew as if it too were human. This bird is loved by the spirit of the South Pole, who seeks revenge when it is killed. The reader views the Albatross not only as a bird, but also as an emblem of innocence representing all of God’s loving – but defenseless – creatures. Its death represents the destruction of nature, and the vengeance of the spirit represents the consequences of such destruction. While the poem corresponds in both structure and subject matter to other writings of its time, one of its two major themes relates not only to Romantic writing, but also to other major political and social events of the period. This theme presents the moral of the tale and allows Coleridge to take on the role of “Poet Prophet”: a poet who “puts himself forward as a spokesman for traditional Western civilization at a time of profound crisis” (Abrams 1320). Romantic authors who wished to better society through their writing frequently took on this role. The profound crisis of the Romantic period addressed by Coleridge in this poem was the poor treatment of the working class and the general disregard for the destruction of nature that followed the English Industrial Revolution. Many early Romantic writers sympathized with the French revolution, supported greater equality for the poor working masses after the English Industrial Revolution, and held nature in high regard (1316-1318). Coleridge shows his sympathy for these principles in the solution he presents to the problem: “He prayeth well, who loveth well/ Both man and bird and beast./ He prayeth best, who loveth best/ All things both great and small;/ For the dear God who loveth us,/ He made and loveth all” (612-617). This clearly pronounced moral asks the reader to consider how each man and beast is made equal, by the same creator, and to treat them accordingly. Although the main plot of the story reflects this moral by having the main character cursed for killing one of God’s creatures with no provocation, Coleridge still chooses to state it directly. This was perhaps intended to ensure that all readers receive his message, and that no one views the tale as merely an interesting story. Other elements of the story line support this contention. For example, the mariner’s feelings towards the water snakes within the poem change as he learns this lesson. Before he kills the albatross, he describes them as merely a cursed part of a rotting landscape, “The very deep did rot: O Christ!/ That ever this should be!/ Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs/ Upon the slimy sea” (123-126). After the curse is put upon him for the bird’s death and he is forced to endure the deaths of his shipmates, he begins to relate more to these creatures, comparing them to himself by stating, “And a thousand slimy things/ Lived on; and so did I” (238-239). In his final account of these snakes, he no longer regards them as filthy creatures of no significance: “I watched the water snakes/ …O happy living things! No tongue/ Their beauty might declare:/ A spring of love gushed from my heart,/ And I blessed them unaware” (282-285). Directly after this realization, his curse is lifted. It is clear that the mariner has learned his lesson, and is finally able to regard these creatures as a glorious part of the world around him. A final description from the narrator of the sky-larks brings the moral full circle, as the very type of creature that he first harmed is now regarded as something beautiful and spiritual: “I heard the sky-lark sing/ …and now it is an angel’s song” (359, 365).The deaths of the crew members also serve to further the moral, as Coleridge states in one of his summaries that “when the fog cleared off, they justified the same, and thus make themselves accomplices to the crime” (97-100). This part of the story reminds the reader that it is not enough to merely keep oneself from harming the innocent. Although the punishment the mariner receives – he is doomed to an existence of Life-in-Death in which his sins must constantly be accounted for – seems much worse, the crew also receives punishment for their acceptance of his crime. The reader is thus compelled to take a stand against others who would oppress the poor and harm God’s creations. Just as bystanders are not exempt from blame Coleridge’s poem, neither are those who consider themselves morally pure Christians. Coleridge underscores his characters’ religious beliefs through numerous references to Christ, God, angels, and the cross. The mariner also references the Holy Mother, frequently prays, and seeks to relieve the burdens of his sins through confession. The religious are capable of injustices towards nature and mankind, and Coleridge reminds them of this fact by forcing them to identify with the characters while providing them with a moral that speaks directly to their conscience through repeated references to God.While the theme of equal treatment is quite obvious, there is another theme that, while never directly stated, underlies the entire poem: the theme of guilt. Romantic poems employing the first-person narrative frequently reflected the poet’s own life and state of mind (Abrams 1319). This poem does as much for Coleridge, who is described as having “manifested early in life a profound sense of guilt and a need for public expiation” (Abrams 1575). The main character of this poem, like Coleridge, is racked with guilt for his cold-blooded killing of the innocent Albatross and the subsequent events that led to the death of his crew and the destruction of his ship. Also like Coleridge, our narrator is never fully freed from this guilt. When discussing the mariner’s fate, the latter of two spirits notes that “The man hath penance done,/ And penance more will do” (408-409). Even after the mariner is rescued and returned to his native land as a wiser, more loving man, he is still forced to pay penance to the spirit of the South Pole by relating his ghastly deeds and their consequences again and again. Perhaps writing this tale provides Coleridge with a similar experience – a continual expiation of his guilt through a written narrative. But even in this theme of guilt we are reminded of what caused it, for the narrator and the reader are both repeatedly forced to face the need for the equal treatment of all. In this tale, Coleridge combines elements of his own guilt-ridden life, the supernatural, and the natural world into a dark first-person narrative lyrical ballad. The elements of his work closely parallel the elements of other major literary works of the Romantic period, but also make a statement to his readers about a major crisis arising out the Industrial Revolution: the poor treatment of God’s creations.Works Cited:Abrams, M. H., et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Ed. M. H. Abrams, et al. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. 1580-95.
Rime of the Ancient Mariner As an Allegory
Samuel Coleridge is viewed as one of the most important poets of the Romantic period. Part of this distinction hinges on Coleridge’s beautiful, nature-themed poetry, but it also rests on his ability to infuse fantastical and haunting elements into his poems. His talent in mixing the natural with the supernatural is especially evident in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This poem is so strongly infused with supernatural elements that Coleridge relies on allegory as a means of conveying the poem’s theme.Written in an archaic style, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is filled with fantastic, and often ambiguous, imagery and events. Like the allegorical Dante’s Inferno, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner details one man’s moral journey, or in this case, moral sea voyage. This voyage is divided into seven sections, each of which fall into the categories of sin, repentance, or redemption.The first section begins the story of the ancient mariner. Mysteriously showing up at a wedding, the mariner pulls a guest aside and begins to recite his story. The Mariner tells of a time in which he and a ship’s crew set sail from Scotland. A storm drove the ship to the south, where icy seas trapped the ship. At this time, an Albatross appeared next to the ship. It stayed with the sailors nine days, and they, viewing the bird as a symbol of good luck, were comforted. The ancient mariner sadly tells the guest that he, for no apparent reason, shot the albatross and killed it.The mariner’s mysterious tale takes on a clearer light when viewed allegorically. The beginning of the sea voyage parallels the beginning of a person’s life. The ice that entraps the ship represent the certain hardships that occur in life. The albatross takes on a very important role, for it represents nature. The comfort that the sailors get from the bird parallels the comfort Romantics believe may be found in appreciating nature. Finally, the ancient mariner’s thoughtless murder of the albatross comes to represent what Romantics viewed as a great sin – a cruel and thoughtless act committed by one who does not appreciate nature.The second section of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner details the events following the death of the albatross. At first incensed by the murder of they bird that they believed to have caused the ocean breezes, the crew forgets their anger when the fog lifts, even supporting the ancient mariner for killing “the bird that had brought the fog and mist.” Soon, however, the ship ventures its way into a “silent sea,” completely devoid of wind. Stranded in a salty sea, the sailors have no drinking water, and the mariner even points out the irony of this by saying, “Water, water, everywhere/ And all the boards did shrink;/ Water, water, everywhere/And not a drop to drink.” Convinced once again that the shooting of the albatross is the cause of their misery, the crew hangs the dead albatross around the ancient mariner’s neck as punishment. Obviously, the extreme suffering of the mariner and the crew represents both the consequences of sin and the price paid for not respecting nature.The third section introduces several fantastical elements into the story. The mariner says that he spots a ship in the distance. In a Draculaesque gesture, the mariner bites his arm, sucks the blood and yells to the crew that there is a ship. Heartened by the prospect of their certain rescue, the sailors joyfully grin. However, as the ship approaches, the ominous truth becomes clear. The ship’s hull is ghostly and torn apart, and the only crew are a man and a woman, whom the mariner refers to as Death and Night-mare Life-in-Death, respectively. The man and woman cast dice and while Death wins the lives of the crew, Night-mare Life-in-Death claims control of the ancient mariner. Immediately, the entire crew dies. Lonely and frightened, only the mariner is left alive, knowing that his sin is the cause of his shipmates’ deaths.The allegorical references in this section are rather clear. The ominous names of the man (Death) and the woman (Night-mare Life-in-Death) immediately reveal their awful roles in the poem. Furthermore, Coleridge says the woman has “skin as white as leprosy.” Not only does this imagery induce thoughts of illness and death, but it alludes to the outcast state of a leper, in this case, the mariner.The fourth section introduces the aspect of redemption into the poem. Alone and afraid, the mariner says he tried to pray, but his heart “as dry as dust” would not allow him to. Days passed, and one night, the mariner noticed the beautiful water snakes swimming in the moonlit sea. Thankful for their beauty, the mariner blesses the snakes. As soon as he does so, he finds himself able to pray. Upon praying, the albatross falls off the mariner’s neck. This moment clearly pinpoints the mariner’s redemption, for he has learned to appreciate the beauty of God’s creatures. The moment the mariner learns this, he is allowed to pray, and thus able to ease some of his burden. By praying, he relieves himself of his mark of shame, the albatross, signifying further the sailor’s redemption.In the fifth section, the mariner tells the guest that after praying, he slept. While sleeping, it rained upon him. Waking up, the mariner saw spirits inhabit the sailors’ bodies, and they began to man the ship and steer it home. The mariner heard two voices. One voice asked if he was the man who killed the albatross. The other, a softer voice, said that the mariner had done penance for his sin, and would do yet more penance.The fifth section continues the use of supernatural spirits to introduce the aspects of redemption and repentance. The rain symbolizes a reprieve from the harsh thirst the mariner had suffered; a reprieve perhaps from his punishment. The two voices seem to represent two differing opinions – one that the sailor had committed an unpardonable crime in killing the albatross, and the other entreating kindness by saying that the mariner had paid and would continue to pay for his sin.The sixth section continues the conversation of the two voices. They say that the moon overthrew the sea and freed the ship from the sea’s grip. The mariner awakens and discovers that a strong wind is bringing him towards his native country. He also sees that the dead crew is standing silently and staring at him, and states that he could not avoid their gaze or pray while they watched him. As the mariner begins to recognize the Scottish coastline, he hears a beautiful music. The music is coming from the men’s bodies as the seraphs leave them and fly to heaven. He then sees a small boat coming towards him, and thinks that he needs to find a priest to hear his confession. Says the mariner, “He [the hermit] will shrieve my soul, he’ll wash away/ The Albatross’s blood.”This section, despite its ghosts and eerie voices, introduces the first peaceful moments the mariner has had since his dreadful sin against the albatross. As the mariner continues to repent, his punishment ceases temporarily, and he is able to return home. However, his simplistic belief that a priest will relieve him of his guilt reflects that the ancient mariner has yet to learn the graveness of his crime.The seventh and last section begins by telling of the hermit’s holy ways. The mariner then tells of how the hermit, a boat pilot, and the pilot’s son rowed out to meet him. However, as they near the ship, the Mariner’s craft is suddenly caught in a whirlpool. It sinks quickly, leaving only the mariner afloat on the surface. The hermit picks up the mariner, and once they have reached land, the mariner tells the hermit of his sin. The hermit absolved the mariner, but gave him the penance of having to tell his tale to others throughout the world. The mariner states that he sees an individual and knows he must tell that person of his tale. In a clear statement of the poem’s theme, the mariner tells the guest that “He prayeth best who loveth best/All things great and small,” and leaves. The next day, the guest awakens feeling both wise and sad, the result of his newfound knowledge. Allegorically speaking, this section confirms the mariner’s redemption but leaves the reader with the knowledge that the mariner must still pay for his sin. Forgiveness for abusing God’s creatures, Coleridge seems to say, comes at a great cost. The harrowing and haunting tale of the mariner serves as a valuable lesson of this.
German Expressionism and German Romanticism as Exemplified by Nosferatu and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
“It is reasonable to argue that the German cinema is a development of German Romanticism, and that modern technique (cinematography) merely lends a visible form to Romantic fancies”, Lotte Eisner asserts. Both Romanticism (late 18th-19th Century) and Expressionism (early 20th Century) were reactions to a period of collectivist order and intellectual rigidity. Both were consoling movements that followed suppression of individualism. Romanticism favored feeling over reason, rejecting its predecessor, the Enlightenment ideal of balance and rationalism, offering the hysterical, the fantastical and the supernatural instead. Expressionism, then, was the settling dust that enveloped post-revolution German society, a frustrated desire for change that followed the rupture of World War I, and also a firm backlash to industrialization. If art were a precise representation of society’s psyche, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) could have been released with Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) and not appear anachronistic – forgiving the lag in development of the film medium, of course. The film and ballad typified their respective periods, and were both a bursting out from the binds of order and logic. It is this symmetry of the film and ballad, and the embodiment of their periods, that I hope to explore.Specifically, I will discuss how elements in both Nosferatu and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are a reflection of the characters’ inner states; how the two periods treat nature as a theme; and lastly, how Romantic sentimentality has worked its way into Nosferatu.A distinct contribution to the Romantic movement was the Gothic romance – the latter a period that depicted mystical adventures of terrified heroes and heroines in the clutches of frightening, mysterious forces, exemplified by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (the forerunner of science-fiction) and Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto. These motifs, often partnered with horror, were captured in The Ancient Mariner when evil descended upon the Mariner’s ship, resulting in graphic devastation: “With throats unslaked, with black lips baked / We could nor laugh nor wail (185-186)”. These motifs are repeated in Nosferatu, where Orlok’s evil mesmerized Ellen while snuffing out life on his sojourn to meet her. The artistes of both periods looked to represent the personal and subjective; rejecting realism, logic and classical Newtonian cause and effect. This desire to bring out inner states resulted in supernatural motifs and dream-like states – often larger-than-life. The fantastic results from the expression of inner states because of “a ‘failed’ transformation… [where] the uncanniness with which the displaced and repressed elements irrupt into idyllic worlds and relationships” . It is possible to read the fantastic elements as manifestations of social concerns of their respective times. The surreal motifs function mainly as extensions of the characters’ minds in both the film and ballad.”Coleridge employs supernatural beings not for the gratuitous effects of terror gratia terroris but in order to project symbolically states and moods of the Mariner’s inner being.” The killing of the Albatross is Coleridge’s exercise on morality. The Mariner’s moral slip left him under the weight of guilt, prompting him to seek resolution with the help of external forces. These “forces” are really not external since they are projections of his troubled psyche: “Her skin was as white as leprosy / The Nightmare Life-In-Death was she (192-193)… I watch’d the water-snakes / They moved in tracks of shining white (274-275)”. The spectral apparitions that followed the ship of doom are reflections of the Mariner’s compunctions of conscience. These elements of the ballad project the character’s inner state and are not externalities having an effect on the character. We will see this motif repeated in Nosferatu twenty years later.Hutter escapes from the domesticity of Ellen for economic reasons, plunging into danger under a spell of greed. His reluctance to provide the love Ellen looks for is redundant once Orlok discovers the medallion with the picture of Ellen. Orlok, with his cryptic evil loom, assumes the role of the “provider” Hutter never was. Murnau portrays Hutter as castrated, ineffectual and weak. Orlok, on the other hand, possesses a potent sweeping power that mesmerizes Ellen. We may view Orlok as a latent side of Hutter, an alter-ego of the “man than he never was” but desires to be. This reading of the film is brought to life by the contrast in journeys made by Orlok and Hutter back to Ellen. Orlok is in full control of nature, traveling with ease on a ship and successfully exerting his evil powers over the vessel. Hutter, contrastingly, traverses mountains and streams, both on foot and on horse, which is a far more troublesome option compared to travel by sea. Orlok’s comfortable sojourn is Hutter’s wishful extension of a potent male alter-ego. Analyzing Orlok’s murders through his shadows brings us to draw the same conclusions. Orlok’s attempt at murdering Ellen may be an expression of Hutter’s repressed desire to kill his wife, but only through his effectual alter-ego. He is frustrated with his obvious inability to provide (his efforts with the flowers were greeted with anti-climactic fashion), and does not seem to love his wife in the traditional romantic way, as we may tell from his desire to leave her, and his uncomfortable rejection of her affection. The fact that only shadows commit the murders, and not Orlok in physical form, represents the suppression of the murderous thoughts, where only a shadow was allowed to escape Hutter’s mind. Accepting Orlok as the emboldened and achieving side of Hutter conveniently excludes Orlok’s diabolic intentions, which is a quality of Hutter not expected to be expressed. However, Elsaesser clearly explains that “the motif of the Double is indeed quite close structurally to the motif of the creature, emancipating itself from the creator and turning against him… interpretation of the Double, or shadows, [is the] symbolic representation of internal irrational forces at work”. Greed is the sin that motivates Hutter’s journey. These evil intentions, embodied by Hutter’s creation of Orlok, resulted in punishing consequences. Orlok turns against Hutter by winning over the woman Hutter wants so much to please, yet, ironically, never really loves. Knock, the driving force behind Hutter’s journey of self-discovery, is in turn under the manipulative spell of Orlok. This way, we are able to trace the source of Knock’s intentions back to Hutter’s alter-ego, Orlok. We are now able to appreciate Nosferatu as a chaotic intercourse of the internal emotions of one man, much like how the albatross, Life-In-Death, and the wedding guest were tools to probe the dark recesses of the Mariner’s psyche.Besides evincing the mental state of characters, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Nosferatu both thoroughly examine their period’s relation to nature. It was only during the Romantic period that walking in the woods was not perilous, but an opportunity to enjoy and ponder awesome views. Europe had become more civilized, safer, and its citizens now felt freer to travel for the simple pleasure of it. Romanticism cultivated a sentimental treatment of all subjects, including nature. The albatross embodied nature in The Ancient Mariner, and like the Romantic society’s embrace of nature, brought good fortune to the ship and was welcomed with joy. The killing of the Albatross is the Mariner’s sin against nature, and he is duly punished. Countless references to nature throughout the poem are not enough to set it apart as a “Romantic treatment of nature”. However, Coleridge uses the sun, moon, sand, sea, including a “hermit in the wood”, to express the Mariner’s mental states and how they evolve with the natural surroundings: “O happy living things! no tongue/ Their beauty might declare (283-284)”. Following a stanza of colorful animal sightings, the Mariner proclaims their beauty and happiness. By his blessing of the nature around him, the Mariner is finally redeemed and the spell begins to break. Coleridge personifies nature with a twist of supernatural, and fuses it with the Mariner’s sub-conscious, sealing The Ancient Mariner as a piece acutely reflective of Romanticism’s nature motif.The “nature” motif is not lost in Nosferatu. Murnau explores the interaction between humans and nature. First, he questions the legitimacy for cannibalism. We see Venus fly traps, Knock catching flies, and spiders with their webs of evil. If carnivorous activity is prevalent in the animal and plant kingdom, should we feel Orlok’s desire for fellow humans is evil or unjust? Second, the horses’ fear of the hyena parallels the trepidity of the villagers to Orlok’s omnipresent evil. Lastly, we see Hutter’s comfort in the wilderness: first, when he disregarded advice and traveled by night to Orlok’s castle, then again, when he journeys home to Ellen. Murnau is generous with footage of Hutter traversing bridges and trails, which represent relief from Hutter’s clustered concrete home. It is as if Murnau himself was drawing energy from the outdoors. This agrees with Paul Brian’s take on nature in Romanticism: “It is precisely people in urban environments aware of the stark contrast between their daily lives and the existence of the inhabitants of the wild who romanticize nature. “Like nature, sentimentalism was celebrated in the Romantic period. This is evident in the Ancient Mariner. We do not see the mariner in love or marriage, but, we may still read much from his brief encounters with the Hermit and the Wedding guest. Both friendships find their roots in the romantic belief in human connection and fate. The relationships between the mariner and the Hermit, and between the mariner and the Wedding guest, are not cynical and insincere, but are reassuring and deep. The Hermit senses danger while approaching the mariner’s ship, yet decides to push on: “Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look- / (The Pilot made reply) / I am a-fear’d” – “Push on, push on!” / Said the hermit cheerily. (539-543)”. The Hermit eventually saves the mariner from his sinking ship. They share a deeper bond when the Hermit cleanses the mariner of guilt by asking the mariner to tell him the story of the albatross. This is an optimistic and cheerful take on human relationships, typical of the romantic period. Correspondingly, the Wedding Guest initially distrusts the mariner, but is touched by a connection he felt with him, and eventually listens to his story. (He holds him with his glittering eye–/ The Wedding-Guest stood still, / And listens like a three years’ child: / The Mariner hath his will, Lines 13-16) Midway through the mariner’s tale, he is afraid and becomes weary, yet he stays and eventually walks away a better person: “He went like one that hath been stunn’d, / And is of sense forlorn: / A sadder and a wiser man / He rose the morrow morn (623-26)”. These relationships exemplify the sentimental Romantic belief in the goodness of man.Nosferatu not only maintains the sentimental aspect of the Romantics but updates it to 20th century sensibilities. Romantic fiction had a penchant for tearful wallowing in the longings and disappointments of frustrated protagonists. By the 20th century, however, sentimentalism had been rejected – what the Romantic age prized as moving and beautiful was deemed false, exaggerated and even comical. Nosferatu mocks Romantic love, a notion set during the Romantic age as the foundation of a successful marriage, with the outwardly exuberant, yet, obviously empty, relationship between Hutter and Ellen. The opening sequence between the pair of “loveless lovers” throws a tad of cynicism on the notion of marriage. Then, even more bitingly, Ellen is mesmerized by, and finally offers herself to, Orlok instead. Overwrought expressions of love between Hutter and Ellen, and Hutter’s valiant efforts to protect Ellen, bring to life the atypical Romantic sensibilities. Yet, Murnau takes this romantic notion and injects his brand of sardonic humor, reducing the pair merely to anachronistic stage actors ripped out of a Romantic play.In conclusion, both German Romanticism and German Expressionism were rebellions against the stifling of individualistic intellectualism. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Nosferatu, two quintessential pieces of their age, capture the inward-looking quality of both periods, especially choosing to explore the psychological manifestations of characters within the art. Such sentiments also gave rise to a renewed interest in nature, embracing animals and the woods at the same time. Lastly, the outburst of Romantic emotionality left an optimistic slant on human interaction in the Ancient Mariner. However, under 20th Century sensibilities, Murnau captures that Romantic notion with a breath of cynicism instead.