Samuel Coleridge was a very influential poet who left his mark upon the next generations of poets and writers. His work has been approved by many people like Wordsworth for instance. One of his most famous poems is “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In this poem Coleridge creates unique image in which the interplay between nature, religion and his own philosophy on the world, builds the very essence of this beautiful work. The poem starts with an ancient mariner – the main character – whose fate is to tell one and same story to different people.
All misadventures through which he passes further in the poem give him this fate, which is almost like an example for all people, a message, a word of God and Nature, that one should not step against his Lord and that all of God’s children should live in harmony. The mariner starts his tale with the sailing of their ship, the weather is kind and even at the very beginning there is a Christian symbol in the picture, a kirk is mentioned as a part of the scenery: “The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared, Merrily did we drop Below the kirk, below the hill, Below the lighthouse top.
(Coleridge, 21-24) However, the mariners’ faith is quickly put on a test with the arising storm, which drives their ship south towards misfortune and mishap. Quickly the mariners find themselves lost in a maze of ice, but when the situation is dire one of the brightest symbols in the poem appears.
This is the Albatross, a sacred bird for all sea-farers, a symbol of fortune and ocean wisdom.
The Albatross in the poem bears much more symbolism though – it is like an embodiment of nature; and nature could easily be related to religion and therefore God as well. Although Nature could also be related to pagan beliefs, there is no wonder that Coleridge connects Nature to Christianity – the two concepts have always been closely connected in the English culture since early Christian times. The bird is even compared with a “Christian soul”:
“At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.”(Coleridge, 63-66)
The Albatross may be considered also as a personification of God who has come to help the lost mariners. Killing the bird not only represents the ingratitude of the mariner but it could be also considered as a lack of respect to all living creatures created by God, no matter how small, or unsightly they are, people should love all of God’s creations equally.
This is a very important moral lesson which Coleridge gives us, and it is not something that should be learnt only by Christians, it is a moral lesson that bears a great significance to all people from all religions all over the world. So, killing the Albatross could be seen as a violation of God’s rules on Earth and violation of Nature:
“And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!”(Coleridge, 91-96)
The Ancient mariner shots the Albatross for no reason. Violating Nature through this act makes the ship to lose its course, because as we said already Nature is closely connected with the spiritual world. The mariner’s despicable act of violence causes disturbance in nature and this is their punishment for doing so.
Everything turns against them, the spiritual world starts punishing the mariner and his crew members making every single bit and element of the physical world painful for them. They face the wrath of God and Mother Nature, which is there to remind them that no human being is greater than the force of Nature. Everything becomes twisted in their eyes, a living nightmare and the things they see, like the death fires for instance, are like an omen for the other sailors and the doom which awaits them further in Coleridge’s poem:
“The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.”(Coleridge, 123–130)
There is again a strong christian presence in the poem, when all of the sailors turn their eyes towards the ancient mariner blaming him for shooting the Albatross. The curse of his horrible deed falls on his shoulders and he is stigmatized by the others with the dead bird hung around his neck. This could be interpreted, in some way, like a slight similarity with Jesus Christ caring his cross on his way up Golgotha’s slope, like symbol of the burden which he has to carry in order to have his sins forgiven:
“Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.”(Coleridge, 139-142)
In Part Three the suffering of the mariners continue. The forces of the spiritual world keep punishing the ship’s crew using nature as a tool, or more like a weapon – there is no wind, ocean has turned into a terrible slimy mess full of horrible creatures and sun is burning them with its scorching heat. But when they face the ghost ship, the horror is even greater; as well as their upcoming doom, their punishment enters its final phase – the ghost ship is no part of the physical world, this is where the spirits themselves decide to deal with the sinners.
The game of dice which Death and Life-In-Death play for the Ancient mariner’s soul, shows how wretched his soul is in the eyes of Coleridge, because the human soul is something unique and priceless and whose fate is not supposed to be decided on just a game of dice. The Mariner is doomed on something worse than death, although that the souls of the other crew members also go in hell, they look much more free than him, while flying out of their bodies.
The Life-In-Death can be seen as a symbol of temptation. She will possess the soul of the Mariner until he pays for his deeds. His “glittering eye” may be considered not only as a symbol of his madness but also could be seen as the desire of his soul to find final peace, to fly out of his body in a moment of freedom just as the souls of his fellow sailors.
There is a very intense religious feeling in this part – through the whole time while the crew members of the ship suffer, this could be interpreted as a time spent in prison or a dungeon. The ship itself could be seen as a limbo. There is no way out of it, no wind to drive it forward. Even when the ghost ship approaches its masts block the sun as prison bars and Coleridge himself compares this sight with a dungeon:
“And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.”(Coleridge, 177-180)
It is almost like we are set to behold the enormous power of the spiritual world and the things which it is capable of – to put even the sun in a cage. There is again slight similarity between the forces of spirits and forces of nature in this – Nature demonstrates its great power by sending help to the lost ship in the face of the Albatross which has the power to guide them through the frigid lands and as we discussed earlier that the Albatross may considered as personification of God who, just as the Albatross, guides people’s souls to heaven.
The irony in the Mariner’s moment of redemption is that the creatures which at first he founded rotten and repulsive turn out to be his salvation. When he starts seeing the beauty of the surroundings and the environment, the beauty of Nature, when he is filled with love for it, then he is granted the permission to pray and his burden to be removed as the dead Albatross fall from his neck right in the sea – right in the embrace of Mother Nature:
“The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.”(Coleridge, 288-291)
He is finally allowed to sleep. The rain pouring on him afterwards symbolizes his new baptizing as a child of God who respects God’s will and therefore his creations. Despite the terrible things which keep occurring around him, he doesn’t fear the storm, the thunder and so on. It is a test given him by God himself and the Mariner is awed by the beautiful power of nature, he is not frightened anymore. It is like his life begins anew, a rebirth:
“The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew;
And when I awoke, it rained.
My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.”(Coleridge, 297-304)
In Part Six there is a slight change of the stylistic structure of the poem. Coleridge presents us the Two Voices. The vivid visual description and concept of the ocean and every surrounding is replaced by the concept of sound and hearing. The Two Voices are not given any visual form, they are most likely spirits, but the most important thing here is their word which we have to hear. Coleridge is more concentrated on sound here – perhaps, because he wants to remind us that the Mariner is telling a tale, exactly like he is telling it to the Wedding Guest.
This makes the readers to get more vivid perception of the poem which could be seen as sermon as well, because after all it has a strong edifying effect for every listener or reader. Because the poem is meant to be told in this manner, aloud, to reach everybody’s ear and heart. At its final part we “meet” the image of the Hermit. There is a strong juxtaposition here between the Hermit and the Ancient Mariner. One can see the Hermit as the exactly opposite figure of the one of the Mariner. The Hermit, according to the Romantic beliefs, is someone who is highly pious and lives in harmony with his surroundings and nature. He is the primal example of a righteous and virtuous man, in contrast with the Mariner’s committed sins.
Everybody who hears the “Rime” becomes wiser at the end of it because people learn that we are all subjects to the same laws of Nature and God. Samuel Coleridge’s “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” is a beautiful poem filled with great moral lessons about life, faith and love of nature.
Through his unique philosophy, way of thinking and imagination, Coleridge presents us how the world is supposed to live in harmony, with love of every living creature, which gets us closer to God, and the earthly blessings which we are given by our Mother Nature. As we can see, destroying nature could cause some serious disorder in the world we live in. Coleridge uses religion as a tool to help us understand these things in an easier way, the message which he sends us is amazing and it bears great significance and symbolism in itself even after all these years.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor – “The Rime of The Ancient Mariner” -http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173253
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