Rime of the Ancient Mariner As an Allegory

April 21, 2022 by Essay Writer

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.

Read more