From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (originally The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Modern editions use a later revised version printed in 1817 that featured a gloss. Along with other poems in Lyrical Ballads, it was a signal shift to modern poetry and the beginning of British Romantic literature.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2011)|
|Problems listening to these files? See media help.|
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner relates the experiences of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage. The Mariner stops a man who is on the way to a wedding ceremony and begins to narrate a story. The Wedding-Guest's reaction turns from bemusement to impatience and fear to fascination as the Mariner's story progresses, as can be seen in the language style: for example, Coleridge uses narrative techniques such as personification and repetition to create either a sense of danger, of the supernatural or of serenity, depending on the mood of each of the different parts of the poem.
The Mariner's tale begins with his ship departing on its journey. Despite initial good fortune, the ship is driven south off course by a storm and eventually reaches Antarctica. An albatross appears and leads them out of the Antarctic but, even as the albatross is praised by the ship's crew, the Mariner shoots the bird ("with my cross-bow / I shot the albatross"). The crew is angry with the Mariner, believing the albatross brought the south wind that led them out of the Antarctic. However, the sailors change their minds when the weather becomes warmer and the mist disappears ("'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay / that bring the fog and mist"). However, they made a grave mistake in supporting this crime as it arouses the wrath of spirits who then pursue the ship "from the land of mist and snow"; the south wind that had initially led them from the land of ice now sends the ship into uncharted waters, where it is becalmed.
Here, however, the sailors change their minds again and blame the Mariner for the torment of their thirst. In anger, the crew forces the Mariner to wear the dead albatross about his neck, perhaps to illustrate the burden he must suffer from killing it, or perhaps as a sign of regret ("Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks / Had I from old and young! / Instead of the cross, the albatross / About my neck was hung"). Eventually, the ship encounters a ghostly vessel. On board are Death (a skeleton) and the "Night-mare Life-in-Death" (a deathly-pale woman), who are playing dice for the souls of the crew. With a roll of the dice, Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the Mariner, a prize she considers more valuable. Her name is a clue as to the Mariner's fate; he will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.
One by one, all of the crew members die, but the Mariner lives on, seeing for seven days and nights the curse in the eyes of the crew's corpses, whose last expressions remain upon their faces. Eventually, the Mariner's curse is temporarily lifted when he sees sea creatures swimming in the water. Despite his cursing them as "slimy things" earlier in the poem ("Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs / upon the slimy sea"), he suddenly sees their true beauty and blesses them ("a spring of love gush'd from my heart and I bless'd them unaware"); suddenly, as he manages to pray, the albatross falls from his neck and his guilt is partially expiated. The bodies of the crew, possessed by good spirits, rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks in a whirlpool, leaving only the Mariner behind. A hermit on the mainland had seen the approaching ship and had come to meet it with a pilot and the pilot's boy in a boat. When they pull him from the water, they think he is dead, but when he opens his mouth, the pilot has a fit. The hermit prays, and the Mariner picks up the oars to row. The pilot's boy goes crazy and laughs, thinking the Mariner is the devil, and says, "The Devil knows how to row." As penance for shooting the albatross, the Mariner, driven by guilt, is forced to wander the earth, tell his story, and teach a lesson to those he meets:
After relating the story, the Mariner leaves, and the Wedding Guest returns home, and wakes the next morning "a sadder and a wiser man".
The poem may have been inspired by James Cook's second voyage of exploration (1772–1775) of the South Seas and the Pacific Ocean; Coleridge's tutor, William Wales, was the astronomer on Cook's flagship and had a strong relationship with Cook. On this second voyage Cook crossed three times into the Antarctic Circle to determine whether the fabled great southern continent existed. Critics have also opined that the poem may have been inspired by the voyage of Thomas James into the Arctic. "Some critics think that Coleridge drew upon James's account of hardship and lamentation in writing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
According to William Wordsworth, the poem was inspired while Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Wordsworth's sister Dorothy were on a walking tour through the Quantock Hills in Somerset in the spring of 1798. The discussion had turned to a book that Wordsworth was reading, A Voyage Round The World by Way of the Great South Sea (1726) by Captain George Shelvocke. In the book, a melancholy sailor, Simon Hatley, shoots a black albatross:
As they discussed Shelvocke's book, Wordsworth proffers the following developmental critique to Coleridge, which importantly contains a reference to tutelary spirits: "Suppose you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the south sea, and the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime." By the time the trio finished their walk, the poem had taken shape.
Bernard Martin argues in The Ancient Mariner and the Authentic Narrative that Coleridge was also influenced by the life of Anglican clergyman John Newton, who had a near-death experience aboard a slave ship.
The poem may also have been inspired by the legends of the Wandering Jew, who was forced to wander the earth until Judgement Day for taunting Jesus on the day of the Crucifixion, and of the Flying Dutchman.
The poem received mixed reviews from critics, and Coleridge was once told by the publisher that most of the book's sales were to sailors who thought it was a naval songbook. Coleridge made several modifications to the poem over the years. In the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, published in 1800 (see 1800 in poetry), he replaced many of the archaic words.
In Biographia Literaria XIV, Coleridge writes:
In Table Talk, 1830–32, Coleridge wrote:
Wordsworth wrote to Joseph Cottle in 1799:
However, when Lyrical Ballads was reprinted, Wordsworth included it despite Coleridge's objections, writing:
Upon its release, the poem was criticised for being obscure and difficult to read. It was also criticised for using archaic words, not in keeping with Romanticism. In 1815–16, Coleridge added to the poem marginal notes (still deliberately written in an archaic style) that gloss the text, ostensibly explaining the meaning of verses. While the poem was originally published in the collection of Lyrical Ballads, the 1817 version was published in his collection entitled Sibylline Leaves (see 1817 in poetry).
The gloss describes the poem as an account of sin and restoration. While some critics see the gloss as spelling out clearly the moral of the tale, others point to the inaccuracies and illogicalities of the gloss and interpret it as the voice of a dramatized character that only serves to highlight the poem's cruel meaninglessness. In particular, Charles Lamb, who had deeply admired the original for its attention to "Human Feeling", claimed that the gloss distanced the audience from the narrative, weakening the poem's effects.
The poem on the surface explores violation of nature and its resulting psychological effects on the Mariner, who interprets the fates of his crew to be a direct result of his having shot down an albatross. Although the poem is often read as a Christian allegory, Jerome McGann argues that it is really a story of our salvation of Christ, rather than the other way round. The structure of the poem, according to McGann, is influenced by Coleridge's interest in higher criticism, and its function "was to illustrate a significant continuity of meaning between cultural phenomena that seemed as diverse as pagan superstitions, Catholic theology, Aristotelian science, and contemporary philological theory, to name only a few of the work's ostentatiously present materials."
In his 1946-47 essay "The Mariner and the Albatross", George Whalley suggests that the Ancient Mariner is an autobiographical portrait of Coleridge himself, comparing the Mariner's loneliness with Coleridge's own feelings of loneliness expressed in his letters and journals.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner|