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.
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.
Sadness through Symbols and Imagery
In Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, a range of interesting narrative techniques are used to explore the fundamental core of man, the relationship between man and nature and how our actions leave an irreversible mark on the universe. Published in 1798 in the collection titles Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge’s presentation of the Mariner’s physical and spiritual voyage went against the scientific tide of the Enlightenment Era before whereby reason was applied to all areas of society. The Mariner’s phantasmal tale causes the wedding guest to emerge a ‘sadder and wiser man’, with the reader left in a similar state.
Extensive use of natural imagery is of paramount significance in the poem. The personification of the natural surroundings immediately creates a sense of otherworldliness, placing the reader in a position of unfamiliarity and intrigue. The Ice ‘crack’d and growl’d and roar’d and howl’d, unsettling imagery associated with predatory animals. In effect the natural surrounding appears to respond to the actions of mankind, an idea perhaps unfamiliar with the reader but which supports Coleridge’s idea of the inseparability of man and the universe, or the physical and the metaphysical. This is an idea that modern day readers can appreciate with the threat of global warming, a product of man’s carelessness towards the use of the world un-renewable resources. Further use of the personification of nature when referring to the ‘broad and burning face’ of the ‘Sun’ heightens the idea that Coleridge’s natural world appeared wrathful towards the Mariner’s deed as the ‘burning face’ of the Sun projects the image of anger to the reader.
Coleridge’s use of emotive imagery is not just limited the natural world, but through the Mariner’s voyage; the metaphysical world becomes visible to the reader. A deeply unpleasant view of death and suffering emerges with Coleridge’s characterisation of ‘The Woman and the fleshless man’. Coleridge brings the concept of morality to life when comparing death to a man with ‘Jet-black’ bones and suffering as a woman with ‘skin as white as leprosy’. The sickly pair are depicted as bargaining for the Mariner’s soul, which although seems an abstract idea to the reader, effectively portrays the emotional torment of the Mariner who witnessed his fate calculated before him. Coleridge to a certain extent presents the Mariner is a state of purgatory whereby his guilt consumes him. E.E Bostetter in ‘The Night World of The Ancient Mariner’ suggests that a numbness consumes the Mariner’s both physically and mentally as his becomes ‘adrift in a completely arbitrary and malign cosmos’ , an interpretation supported by the idea of the Mariner being on a spiritual, figurative voyage as oppose to just a physical one.
The idea is heightened by references Christianity throughout the poem. The reader witness the progression from an anti-Christian perspective with the shooting of the Albatross to the Mariner’s reconciliation which alters his perspective on the natural world. The anti-Christian sense is presented in the following stanza, ‘At length did cross an Albatross/ And an it were a Christian Soul/ We hailed it in God’s name’. The power of redemption is exhibited when the Mariner tried to pray for his sin, but could not as he was not truly sorry, ‘I look’d to Heaven, and try’d to pray’. However it is when the Mariner came to appreciate the natural world, through Coleridge’s vivid description of the ‘water-snakes’ with their colours ‘Blue, glossy green and velvet black’ is when the Mariner ‘blessed them unaware’. On the other hand R.L Brett declares that the Mariner’s sudden realisation of the beauty of the natural world does not win God’s grace, but it is to God’s grace which makes him more receptive to the spiritual power . As Coleridge was still a Unitarian priest in 1797, the reader infers how Coleridge’s own religious beliefs of redemption and repentance are in the poem. The religious parallel between Coleridge and the narrator lends itself to the idea that perhaps through the narrative voice, Coleridge is exploring his own sense of morality.
The Mariner’s killing of the Albatross is a symbolic representation of original sin. Critics however have gone on to argue that on a moral level, the ‘death of two hundred men in atonement for the death of one bird is an absurd outrage to traditional human values’ . In saying this, it does not seem that Coleridge is arguing that the life of the Albatross was more important than that of the ‘ghastly crew’, but that the blood-lust of man is no justification for merciless killing of God-given life. Christian symbolism is heightened by Coleridge’s choice of the wedding scene, a Christian sacrament with great importance. The fact that the Mariner felt it necessary to impose his tale on the unassuming wedding guest shows that the moral message of redemption holds great significance. The wedding guest arguable represents the ignorance in all of us, as mankind can often forget to step back and consider the implications of our actions. The Mariner, although far from heroic, provides a window into the soul which both the modern day and contemporary reader may not have considered. Coleridge effectively uses an unrecognisable, whimsical setting to provide an insight into daily life.
Furthermore, Coleridge adopts a metre with strong internal rhymes and regular stresses which add a hypnotic quality to the poem-‘Alone, alone, all all alone/Alone on the wide wide sea’(Line 234). The lullaby quality of this line juxtaposed with the sense of heaviness leaves the reader is a state of strange unease with the deliberate pairing of the sing-song rhyme scheme with the concept of suffering. This method is also demonstrated in Line 117, ‘Water, water every where/Ne any drop to drink’. In effect, the Mariner seems insignificant when placed in the vast power of the sea. The repetition of ‘Alone’ and ‘Water’ has a soothing quality to the reader, however when juxtaposed with the theme of isolation is deeply unsettling. Coleridge’s sense of estrangement is heightened by his use of archaic, fourteenth century diction such as ‘kirk’, ‘betwixt’, and ‘eldritch’ which places the Mariner and the reader in an unrecognisable historical context. However the fact that the reader does not know the exact time period, allows for more focus on the human mind which is central to the understanding of The Rime.
Coleridge’s use of stresses in The Rime reflects key moments of significance to the reader. The use of iambic trimeter in Line 80, ‘I shot the Albatross.’ places the emphasis on ‘shot’ when read aloud as oppose to the use of Iambic tetrameter in Line 79 ‘’Why look’st thou so?’– with my cross bow’ whereby there is an even emphasis on ‘look’st’, ‘so’, ‘my’ and ‘bow’. Owing to the fact that this poem is a ‘tale’, it is vital to consider how the poem would have read to the wedding guest. For example, Coleridge sporadically inverts the word order of some lines to add a lyrical quality to The Rime, ‘Through utter drought all dumb we stood’(Line 159). Extended use of repetition further engages the reader, ‘The Ice was here , the ice was there/ the ice was all around’ to focus the readers’ attention on key aspects not to be forgotten in the vast length of the poem. The lullaby- metre has a hypnotic and enticing effect while the final lines of the stanzas bear on the whole the greatest emphasis. The poignancy of this line is further emphasised by the full stop, allowing the reader to reflect.
In conclusion, Coleridge effectively uses an interesting narrative technique in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ when exploring the inseparability of mankind and the metaphysical world, epitomised when said, ‘He prayeth well who loveth well/ Both man and bird and beast.’ Extensive use of symbolism and natural imagery paired up with the folk-like, hypnotic tone of the poem encapsulates Coleridge’s emphasis on the understanding of the supernatural word to come closer to God and the truth.
 E.E Bostetter ‘The Ancient Mariner’ (1962)
 R.L. Brett, ‘Reason and Imagination, (1961) pg. 101
 Irving Babbitt ‘On Being Creative’ (1929)
The Lesson of the Albatross in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells the story of a sailor and his perilous adventures. This tale follows the Mariner and his crew as they travel between the equator and the South Pole, and then travel back to England. On the surface this story seems to be just another tale of a sailor. If the reader delves deeper, he will discover not just a story, but a search to understand the place of man in the divine plan. Coleridge, like other Romantic poets, tries to find the right balance between reason and spirituality and uses his poem to show the complexities of free will, and the consequences of slighting divine influence. Also like other Romantic poets, Coleridge uses symbolism to connect the material world with the spiritual. The symbols Coleridge chooses helps him illustrate this theme of spiritual connection in a world overrun by reason, because “for Coleridge, symbolic vision is profoundly religious, lifting the symbol maker–the poet–into the Divine realm of the Symbol Giver” (Levy 225).
The Romantic movement can be seen as a reaction to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on logic and reason. In fact, the Romantic movement is an attempt to explore consciousness, imagination, and feeling. Major themes of the Romantic movement include the relationship between man and nature, contemplation of the divine or infinite in nature, reverence for the natural world, and the symbolic nature of liminal spaces. A typical theme of Romantic narratives is the protagonist’s transformation from a state of innocence or grace to a realization of human nature, usually achieved through some sort of spiritual intervention. Drawing from the Enlightenment’s focus on reason and evidence, the Romantics give great weight to the protagonist’s experiences and revelations.
Although “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” takes place in the physical world, it can be interpreted as an allegory of the dangers that one faces when contending against the divine. In the epigraph, Burnet weighs the need for man to understand the visible world against the ability to accept the invisible. The divine approaches man through the invisible world by presenting him with symbols and omens in nature. The Mariner is a mortal man who becomes intertwined with the supernatural. Since the Mariner is mortal, and part of the natural world, he can only accept the supernatural through physical occurrences in the natural world. Coleridge’s poetic world is a balance between the limitations and hardships of mortal man and the discipline and guidance of the divine. Coleridge illuminates the hidden workings of the spiritual world to draw attention to man’s inability to escape his connection to the supernatural. In his hubris the Mariner disregards the divine message and tries to assert his will over the natural world. Since it is man’s nature to question the divine plan and his place in the natural world, the Mariner’s sin can be punished and atoned for.
The poem begins with the Mariner outside of a wedding accosting the guests. The backdrop of the wedding is Coleridge’s way to root the tale in the mundane world. “Against this background the Mariner stands out as a ‘grey-beard loon’ – and epithet, however, that tells more of the ordinary man’s insensitivity than of the Mariner’s insanity” (Chandler 405), showing that mundane reason does not always allow one to see a person’s true worth. In the wedding guest, the Mariner finds the ability to learn a lesson from his plight. He feels the need to unburden himself on this hapless stranger. As he introduces his tale, the Mariner piques his listener’s curiosity. When the wedding guest exclaims, “God save thee, ancient Mariner! /From the fiends, that plague thee thus!- /Why look’st thou so?” (Coleridge ℓℓ 79-81), the Mariner knows that he has found the one to whom he must teach his lesson.
The Mariner begins his tale with the slaying of the Albatross, which is no common bird. This albatross brought with it a “good south wind” (Coleridge ℓℓ 87) to the ship beset by fog, and is taken by the crew to be a good omen. The Mariner shoots the albatross with his crossbow, and his shipmates curse him for the betrayal of their good fortune. When, upon the bird’s death, the fog lifted, his shipmates then hailed the Mariner as a champion. “’Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, /That bring the fog and mist” (Coleridge ℓℓ 101-102). The Mariner’s shipmates are not only superstitious, but are easily swayed as to what those superstitions mean. By slaying the object of the crew’s superstition, the Mariner has exerted man’s ability to reason over divine will. The Mariner shoots the albatross to prove it is not a spirit, but a mortal creature. The slaying of the bird is their undoing, because the sailors were right in their first assumption: The bird was an omen of divine guidance. By killing the helpless albatross, “the Mariner commits a grievous offense which, however cryptic it remains, consists of something more heinous than killing the bird: he has transgressed a moral order” (Netland screen 1).
It is not long until the albatross begins to avenge itself, because “the Mariner’s deed of violence is wicked and requires penance” (Foakes 51). When the ship reaches the equator, it is becalmed and the wind ceases to fill its sails. Thus begins the penance of the Mariner, for the slaying of an innocent bird. At this point Coleridge begins to use the ship as a symbol of the crew’s penance: “Water, water, every where,/Nor any drop to drink” (Coleridge ℓℓ 121-122). Zens elaborates by stating: “The vast sea surrounds the crew, but the dehydrated men are unable to drink the salt water available” (Zens 194). Coleridge also takes the next stanza to show how he feels for these men, who would turn their back on divine intervention: “Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs/Upon the slimy sea” (Coleridge ℓℓ 125-126). All the men aboard ship know who has caused this punishment, and so they hang the albatross around the Mariner’s neck. Not only has the albatross become a very physical reminder of the Mariner’s spiritual indiscretion, but also “renders the Mariner as a cross on which the corpus hangs” (Hillier 12), symbolically relating the death of the albatross to the death of innocence that Christ suffers on the cross.
Then a spirit comes and moves the ship, without a breeze to fill its sail. The men all think that they have paid their penance and that they have reached salvation. This feeling of hope disintegrates when they see a ship that is just bare framework, and “rather than a revelation of light, this is a revelation of darkness; rather than of life, death, rather than of salvation, destruction” (Watkins 27) . On this ship are two ghosts playing a game of dice. The sailors realize that they have come to their judgment day, and they stand before representatives of God and the Devil. The woman, who is God’s avatar or Life-in-death, has won and gets to choose the man she will spare. The exchange between the two ghosts shows the Romantic poet’s use of symbolic liminal spaces, or thresholds. These thresholds are used to show the uncertain division between two areas, such as the city and the country, two concepts, such as love and hate, or two realms, as in the Mariner’s case. The dice game is the Mariner’s liminal space, because the outcome determines whether he stays in the realm of the living or enters the realm of the dead. This threshold connects the Mariner’s possible fates: to die and be damned or to live and suffer his penance. The Mariner becomes the one chosen and must pay the next part of his penance. He must watch as each crew member dies and curses him. Now the life of the Mariner starts to truly parallel the life of a prophet, even that of Christ. His fate is to live and see the consequences he has wrought.
The spirit of the albatross then sends the Mariner to the South Pole, “this cold is followed by the entrance into a new world, one into which no human had ever penetrated” (Peckham screen 1) . Coleridge uses this desolate wasteland to represent Hell and the time Christ had to spend there. The Mariner has taken on the role of Christ, and must journey to hell to absolve the sins of his shipmates and himself. The spirits that inhabit this frozen Hell join in the Mariner’s punishments: “‘Is it he?’ quoth one, ‘Is this the man? /By him who died on cross,/With his cruel bow he laid full low/The harmless Albatross’” (Coleridge ℓℓ 398-401). Finally the Mariner is able to pray again and in doing so he unconsciously blesses the hideous snakes that swim around the ship. The act of contrition, represented by his prayers, causes the the albatross to drop from around the Mariner’s neck. The Mariner’s prayers are the turning point of the poem, and the transition from punishment to atonement. After his time in Hell the Mariner is released by the words of one of these spirits. “The man hath penance done,/And penance more will do” (Coleridge ℓℓ 408-409).
Not only has the Mariner regained his ability to speak, but he is also able to sleep again. When his dreams come, the Mariner dreams of slaking his thirst. The Mariner awakens to rain and declares: “Sure I had drunken in my dreams,/And still my body drank” (Coleridge ℓℓ 303-304). Although his journey is not complete, the Mariner’s act of contrition has improved the conditions of his journey. The release is not the end of the Mariner’s suffering, and an angel comes to bear his ship away. The angel puts the Mariner in a trance and moves the ship from underneath. The Mariner must be in a trance because the ship moves faster than any human could travel. When the angel brings the ship once more to the equator, the Mariner awakes. On his awakening, the Mariner sees all the crew’s corpses standing, animated by angelic spirits. Because of the spirits’ help, the Mariner knows his journey at sea is coming to an end. The dead men sail the ship back towards the Mariner’s home. When the Mariner reaches the harbor of his home, he sees a ship coming alongside his own. As the ship approaches, the dead crew give the Mariner one final salute as they lie down to have their final piece. This confirmation by the angelic spirits tells the Mariner that he has paid his penance.
The boat that comes to retrieve the Mariner from his ship has a hermit aboard. The hermit is sent to the Mariner as his confessor. When the Mariner sees this hermit, he asks to be “shrieved,” to be absolved. Modiano asserts: “This is one of the central paradoxes of the Mariner’s situation. He can relieve himself of his inner agony and retain his sanity after his return from the vast solitudes of the ocean only by shaping an otherwise formless, incomprehensible, and unbearable past into a structured narrative with a beginning, climax, ending—and a moral lesson as well” (Modiano 43). The completion of his penance does not stop the Mariner from requesting the hearing of his confession; he knows that he must see his punishment through to the end. Even though his penance has been paid, the Mariner has been trapped by Life-in-death. Unlike Christ, who was admitted to heaven after his trip to hell, the Mariner must now spend his life imparting the wisdom he has gained from his experience. In this way the Mariner’s punishment parallels the punishment of Cain. For the sin of taking an innocent life, the Mariner, like Cain before him, must now wander the Earth as an example to those who do not hold the divine sacred. The Mariner’s wandering life is what brought him to the wedding, and the guest with whom he shares the perils of slighting the divine.
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a story of spiritual reconciliation, and the Mariner spends his journey atoning for the sin of killing the albatross. The albatross is avenged through the physical and supernatural trails the Mariner must endure. Not only is the Mariner subject to personal trials, but he must also witness the trials of his shipmates, whose only sin was that of being on the same ship as him. Although the other sailors are put to death, they are spared the punishment of Life-in-Death. Only the Mariner’s sins are great enough to carry the burden of the telling and retelling of the lesson of the albatross. For his atonement the Mariner is not allowed the peace of death, and may never be allowed that peace. By the end of the poem the Mariner advocates a respect of the natural world, so that one can remain in divine favor. In order to keep a spiritual grace, one must respect all aspects of the natural world. This is why the Mariner venerates the Hermit, who maintains a personal balance between his spiritual health and his harmony with nature.
Coleridge createdsa powerful parable in his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” He uses this parable to show his distaste at those who turn their back on God and the divine plan. Coleridge seems to connect with the Mariner in at least one respect: that he feels he must give his lesson to the world. By having the protagonist tell the tale, instead of it being narrated, Coleridge draws the attention away from the poet and focuses it on the Mariner. This focus allows the Mariner to connect with the reader in a way that the poet is incapable. The lesson of the albatross then becomes not only the Mariner’s but the reader’s as well. By relinquishing the storytelling to the Mariner, instead of himself, Coleridge symbolizes the poet’s need to share his own lessons with the reader. This admission of the poet only serves the emphasize the importance of the lesson. It seems that Coleridge has seen things that have weakened his faith in the spirit of man. The Mariner is Coleridge’s way of trying to shape the descent of man into the material world, into an ascent towards the spiritual world for which they should strive. At its core the poem is a story of sin and redemption, or the idea that you can repent and pay penance for straying from the divine.
Chandler, Alice. “Structure and Symbol in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’”. Modern Language Quarterly. Sep65, Vol. 26 Issue 3, p401-414.
Coleridge, Samuel T. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Eds. Paul Davis, et al. The Bedford Anthology of World Literature. Book 5. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 262-280.
Foakes, R.A. “Coleridge, Violence and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’”. Romanticism. 2001, Vol. 7 Issue 1, p41-58.
Hillier, Russell M. “Coleridge’s Dilemma and the Method of ‘Sacred Sympathy’: Atonement as Problem and Solution in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’” Papers on Language & Literature. Winter2009, Vol. 45 Issue 1, p8-36.
Levy, Sandra M. “Coleridge’s `Rime of the Ancient Mariner’: Theodicy in a new key”. Anglican Theological Review. Spring96, Vol. 78 Issue 2, p206-225.
Modiano, Raimonda. “Words and ‘Languageless’ Meanings Limits of Expression in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’”. Modern Language Quarterly. Mar77, Vol. 38 Issue 1, p40-62.
Netland, John T. “The Roles of the Wedding-Guest and the Editor.” Bloom’s Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 4 Apr. 2014
Watkins, Daniel P. “History as Demon in Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’”. Papers on Language & Literature. Winter88, Vol. 24 Issue 1, p23-34.
Zins, Kimberly. “Equilibrium in Coleridge’s the rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The Explicator. 66.4 (2008): 194.
Climax and Anti-climax in The Road, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and The Great Gatsby
Climaxes are moments of increased tension which signify a central turning point within a text. Anti-climaxes can be defined as moments which subvert expectations as they provide a plot twist which are marked by decreased intensity. This essay reviews climaxes in several works.
In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the shooting of the road rat early on in the narrative is a particularly climatic episode. McCarthy utilises this to convey from the beginning that the man is willing to sacrifice his morality to survive and to protect his son. The episode is characterised by several pages of unattributed dialogue which physically convey it as essential to the novel and create a moment of heightened tension between the protagonists and the road rat. Without any interruption from the third person narrator, we are offered an intimate perception of the incident which enhances our understanding of the man as the boy’s protector. It is increasingly climatic because we are able to witness, at a closer distance, the extent to which the man will go to protect his son: “If you look at him again I’ll shoot you.” Adding to this, the episode enables McCarthy to establish the road rat as a microcosm for the wider fiends who inhabit the post-apocalyptic world, whom the man and boy refer to broadly as the “bad guys”. This is because the road rat is revealed to be a cannibal with McCarthy utilising lexis connoting animalistic traits to describe the character. He is introduced as having “eyes collared in cups of grime and deeply sunk”. The animal imagery suggests the road rat’s lack of a moral conscience which intensifies the encounter as we feel frightened for the man and boy’s survival. We fear that the episode may see the demise of the man allowing the novel to be a narrative based solely on the boy’s survival. Also, the road rat is described with the tricolon “lean, wiry, rachitic” which separates him further from the man and boy with his inhumane appearance, fuelling further our fears for the characters safety.
In addition, the man and boy’s arrival at the bunker can be perceived as a climatic event. It signifies a turning point in the narrative as structurally, it follows an episode of increased despair in the cellar with the “blackened and burnt” bodies. McCarthy creates a clear parallel between both places: they are both physically “padlocked” and provoke religious exclamations from the man (“Oh Christ” for the cellar and “Oh my God” for the bunker). The parallel which is perhaps most noticeable is the boy’s discrepancy towards both places. For the cellar, he says “Papa let’s not go up there” and similarly, for the cellar he warns “don’t open it, Papa”. This ensures that the discovery of the bunker is all the more climatic because the boy’s reaction to both places is disturbingly similar and hence, we are kept in a state of increased tension as we await to view what the man and boy will face in the bunker. We are fully able to perceive how they must constantly put their safety at risk to survive and are forced to enter a place to be able to deem it safe or dangerous. Also, the protagonists discover “crate upon crate of canned goods. Tomatoes, peaches, beans, apricots” in the bunker which juxtaposes with the “hideous” scene witnessed in the cellar. Some argue that the bunker symbolises hope which is climatic after an episode of such horror. This is because it is discovered at a time when the man and boy are in dire need of food, emphasised by the boy’s physical state: “starved, exhausted, sick with fear”. It is described as the “richness of a vanished world” which evokes some readers to link the bunker with the paradise offered by the garden of Eden, reinforcing the episode as climatic due to its hopeful and religious connotations.
Alternatively, the protagonists arrival at the “south” which they journey to throughout much of the narrative highlights a particularly anticlimactic event. Whilst the man and boy anticipate a welcoming environment with “good guys”, they are enter a landscape devoid of hope which is not much different to the other areas they come across in their journey. Some readers regard this “gray beach” as representing the futility of the characters journey and ultimately, evokes a pessimistic response from them with regards to the ending of the novel. Conversely, the bathetic nature of the episode is perhaps best understood as revealing what we already knew about the world the man and boy inhabit. The sea which “is not blue” conforms to the portrayal of the bleak landscape created by McCarthy throughout the course of the novel and so, should not be a shock to us. There is a parallel between the man’s response to the landscape at the beginning (he sees it as “Barren. Silent. Godless.”) to his response to the sea (“Cold. Desolate. Birdless.”) This depicts the episode as anticlimactic because the man “could see the disappointment on [the boy’s] face” and the hopefulness of the characters seems to flounder.
In Coleridge’s ballad The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the first climax appears when the Mariner shoots an albatross which “did follow” his ship “every day”. We distinguish the event as one which behaves as a catalyst for the remainder of the poem as it triggers the Mariner’s curse and the exploration of the consequences of this single action. The event is notably climactic because the albatross is linked closely to religion and becomes a symbol of spirituality as it “perch’d for vespers nine”. Hence, the Mariner’s admitting that “with my crossbow/ I shot the albatross” comes as a unprecedented shock to us as there seems to be no clear motive behind the killing and arguably, implies the Mariner’s ignorance and inability to respect God’s creatures. Some argue that Coleridge utilises the climax created to reveal the Mariner’s horrifying rejection of religion. This could be related to the killing of Christ who was persecuted with no legitimate reason and under immoral consciences. The scene is made more climatic with the dramatic interjection of the wedding guest before the Mariner reveals his crime: “God save thee, ancient Mariner…Why look’st thou?” The fact that the guest must question the Mariner’s well being highlights how devastating it is for him to retell the details of his crime and the immensity of his guilt.
Furthermore, this climatic sequence in the beginning is brought to a stand still with the stagnation of the sea. This is a particularly anticlimactic moment because we expect the Mariner to serve the consequences for his thoughtless killing almost instantly. However, Coleridge subverts this and introduces the “silent sea” which the crew enter as “the first that ever burst”. The word “burst” demonstrates their violent entrance which contrasts with the “silent sea” with the sibilance creating an atmosphere of impending doom. This further develops the anticlimactic moment because with such a violent entrance, we anticipate a dramatic sequence of events. Instead, Coleridge reveals how the ship was “stuck, nor breath nor motion”. “Nor” has negative connotations which perhaps emphasises the absence of life in the sea and thus, how isolated the crew are. Also, the ship’s stagnation is described as being “as idle as a painted ship/Upon a painted ocean”. The simile depicts the stillness of the ship with the idea of it being a like a ‘painting’, implicating the ship’s inability to make progress. From Coleridge’s gloss (“And the albatross begins to be avenged”) we can deduce that the stillness, despite being anticlimactic, is a direct effect of the albatross being “shot”.
Additionally, a climatic moment is arguably the Mariner having “blessed them [the water snakes] unaware” and the albatross falling from his neck. Having already established the albatross as symbol of religion from the very beginning, Coleridge utilises the act of it falling from the Mariner’s neck as a physical representation of his guilt being alleviated. Following the “seven days, seven nights, I [the Mariner] saw that curse”, Coleridge implies how although it was time which led to the Mariner’s change in perception, the eventual shift is sudden: “a spring of love gushed form my heart”. The word “gushed” intensifies he moment as it captures the rapidness of the Mariner’s blessing and reinforces the idea that he is “unaware” of what he is doing. This forms part of the climax because we are left anticipating whether the Mariner’s redemption will be complete or if he has to suffer far graver consequences for his killing. Also, the actual moment the “the albatross fell off, and sank like lead into the sea” is significantly climatic because the simile compares the albatross to “lead” which we associate to weight and illustrates the immensity of the Mariner’s guilt. As it falls, the Mariner is able to pray (“To Mary Queen the praise be given!”) and sleep (“Oh sleep! It is a gentle thing”).
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the meeting between Gatsby and Daisy in chapter 5 is particularly anticlimactic. This is their first encounter after the ending of their short lived romance “five short years ago” and understandably, we apprehend it to reignite the passion of their previous romance and for Daisy to live up to Gatsby’s dream version of her. However, the encounter becomes anticlimactic with our expectations being reverted as it becomes clear that Daisy fails to embody Gatsby’s dream vision of her with Gatsby himself exclaiming to Nick that “this is a terrible mistake”. Also, there is a notable lack of dialogue between Gatsby and Daisy which forces us to focus on their body language. Gatsby keeps “his hands in his pockets” and even knocks over “a defunct mantlepiece clock”. This highlights the initial awkwardness of the moment which is anticlimactic as it is not a display of the passion we envisaged. Gatsby’s clumsy action of knocking over the clock depicts his unsuccessful attempt to recapture the past through this meeting with Daisy. Adding to this, as the incident with the clock takes place, it is ‘pouring’ with rain which demonstrates how Gatsby is at the height of his discomfort and this fails to be a turning point in the narrative as Gatsby does not reawaken the love he felt five years ago. Even Nick himself remarks “there must have been moments…when Daisy tumbled short of his dream”. This conveys how the encounter which should have left Gatsby feeling one step closer to his dream of being with Daisy is anticlimactic due to the “colossal vitality of his illusion”. It reveals the delusional quality of Gatsby’s vision and validates the problems with “living too long with a single dream”.
Moreover, the deaths of both Myrtle and Gatsby are climatic. The deaths of both characters are never directly revealed and only told through the response of other characters. Myrtle’s “life violently extinguished” and her “thick dark blood with the dust”. Her death is significant as it leaves no one for Tom to construct his affair with and this seems to have affected him greatly:”tears were overflowing down his face”. This is a turning point in the novel because it is arguably the first time in which we come close to feeling sympathy for him as prior to his display of emotion, we perceive him as controlling and treating people “as though he were moving a checker to another square.” Also, some readers view Myrtle’s death as leaving a “reel of chaos in its wake”. This is not only due to Tom losing his mistress, but also as a result of the complications it leaves between Gatsby and Daisy. Both characters are not able to develop their relationship fully and they seem more distanced following the death as Daisy makes no conscientious effort to stop Gatsby from taking the blame for Myrtle’s death to save her.
In addition, Gatsby’s death is climatic because it perhaps signifies the death of the American Dream as well. This is because Fitzgerald establishes Gatsby as the embodiment of the American Dream with his reinvention from ‘James Gatz’ to the more glamorous and prosperous ‘Jay Gatsby’. He represents ‘new money’ which is in line with the American Dream’s ideal of ‘perseverance resulting in success’. Hence, his death symbolises the ending of the American Dream and arguably Fitzgerald’s belief that the American Dream itself is corrupt and unable to be truly successful. Linking it to Gatsby’s demise brings the novel towards a climatic end because we do not anticipate such a horrific end for out protagonist. Some readers argue that Gatsby’s death is made more climatic by the fact that we expect him to be murdered for his criminal connections rather than for Myrtle’s death which he was not even responsible for. Also, Gatsby was killed in his pool and his choice to use his pool on the “first day of autumn” illustrates a defiance of the change in seasons and his inability to leave the past behind. We note this as crucial to the narrative because it is his desire to recapture the past which perhaps leads to his death. It is final and poignant reminder of the possibly fatal consequences of trying to reshape the past into the present.