How to Approach Coleridge's Masterpiece,The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

No ballad is so fun to read than Coleridge's masterpiece, The rime of the Ancient Mariner. Lowell, a renowned critic, Says ,"Coleridge has taken the old ballad measure and given to it, by an indefinable charm wholly his own, all the sweetness, all the melody and compass of a symphony and how picturesque it is in the proper sense of the word. I know nothing like it. Read More Romantic Period There is not a description in it. It is all pictures." For a clear understanding, obsolete words must be discussed, figures must be explained, and pictures must be clearly dwelt upon. In studying this poem, we cannot help but feel the wonderful imagery weird, grotesque, and romantic; we recognize back of it a powerful allegory; we see the double setting of a story within a story; we thrill at the supernatural; we feel the music of rhyme and rhythm, the throb of the internal rhymes, and the fascination of alliteration; we project ourselves back into the emotions of the Middle Ages. We recognize the ballad influence in the metrical form, in the quaint expressions, in the repetition of certain phrases. 

The moral of the tale is manifest in the ancient mariner's final words to the wedding guest: 'He prayeth best, who loveth best/ All things both great and small;/ For the dear God who loveth us,/ He made and loveth all.'

On a superficial level, 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' can be read as a tale of horror in which a mariner is hounded by disaster and supernatural forces after murdering an albatross. But it is much more than that. Read More Romantic Period Coleridge clearly tries to make the supernatural elements of the poem appear as integral parts of the natural world. His underlying theme is that all things that inhabit the natural world have an inherent value and beauty, and that it is necessary for humanity to recognize and respect these qualities. Read More Romantic Period The simple action of the plot, initiated by the mariner's unthinking, destructive act, leads to his tribulations and consequent maturation. 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' is an excellent example of Romantic poetry and is often read to understand the characteristics of this poetic genre.

We have to read this ballad aloud many times so that the magic of the words, the music of the phrasing, and the weird power of the scenes may act upon our listeners through the interpretation of our voice. We have to bring out the great message, so that it touches everybody with its poignant appeal.

 There are two settings in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.' In the first scene an ancient mariner stops a guest at a wedding party and begins to tell his tale. Read More Romantic Period The mariner's words then transport the reader on a long ocean voyage, returning to the wedding at the end of the poem. The story is probably set in the late medieval period; the town in which the action occurs is never named, although it is likely that Coleridge's audience would have pictured a British seaport, possibly London.
The mariner describes a voyage he takes as a youth from an unnamed European country to the South Pole and back. Read More Romantic Period The initial descriptions of the ship and its crew are fairly realistic, but as the ancient mariner undergoes his quest for understanding and redemption, the supernatural world increasingly engulfs him. His world becomes nightmarish when contrasted with the realistic world that he has left behind. At the same time, in the background, elements from the natural world are always present. For much of the poem, the mariner is adrift in the middle of the ocean, symbolically cut off from all human companionship.

Part. I

The Crime:

Lines 1-20. Mariner detains wedding-guest.
21-30. Prosperous start from port.
81-40. Guest hears music, but must stay.
41-62. Ship drawn by storms to South Pole, through ice and
awful sounds.
63-78. Albatross for nine days bird of good omen; ship turns
79-82. Mariner kills the bird.

Part II.

Physical Punishment follows Crime:

Lines 83- 90. Going north without the bird.
91- 96. Companions condemn at first.
97-105. Fair weather; companions approve, therefore are like
107-118. Ship is becalmed at equator.
119-130. Suffering; albatross begins to be revenged.
131-138. Spirit follows under the ship.
139-142. Companions then turn, hang bird around mariner's neck
as punishment.

Part III.

Life-in-Death, or Remorse, wins Mariner:

Lines 143-153. Mariner sees something afar.
154-163. Hails phantom ship.
164-166. Flash of joy.
167-186. Description of phantom ship.
187-202. Specter-woman, Life-in-death, throws dice and wins the
mariner from death. Remorse gets him.
203-211. Effect in moonlight.
212-223. Companions curse him and die. Remorse begins to work.

Part IV.

 Living Creatures of the Deep; Physical Punishment gone:

Lines 224-231. Guest fears mariner is a ghost.
232-252. Despises creature of the deep.
53-262. Dead men's curses haunt him.
263-281. In the moonlight he watches the creatures of the deep.
282-287. Sees their beauty and suddenly can love them.
288-291. When hatred, turns to sympathy, the albatross drops
from his neck.

Part V.

 Recognition of the Mariner's Reform:

Lines 292-300. Sleep and dreams.
301-308. Rain.
309-326. Wind and storm.
327-344. Ship moves, manned by spirits of the deep.
345-349. Guest's fears.
350-366. Troops of angelic spirits and sounds.
367-380. Polar spirit makes ship go quietly.
381-392. Ship starts suddenly, after stopping 'at the equator;
mariner faints.
393. Two voices say that he has done penance/

Part VI.

 Reaching Haven sees Hermit:

Lines 410-429. Supernatural power moves ship while mariner is in a
430-441. Penance and curse renewed.
442-451. Crime expiated.
452-463. Wind blows ship.
464-485. Home again in harbor.
486-499. Departure of seraphs from dead men.
500-513. Coming of hermit, boy, and pilot to shrive.

Part VII.

 Shriving; Ship goes Down; Final Punishment and Forgiveness:

Lines 514-541. Boat comes to save.
542-559. Ship sinks; mariner is saved.
560-573. Rowing to land. Effect on rescuers.
574-581. Asks to be shriven, but must tell tale at intervals.
582-590. Penalty, to travel and tell his story.
591-609. Hearing sounds from wedding, he compares his former desolation with social and religious pleasures.
610-617. Mariner's final advice: love animals.
618-625. Guest feels the lesson.

1. To whom is the old mariner talking? Where was this man going? What makes him stay and listen to the old man? Why do you suppose the mariner chose this man as a listener to his story? What characters are in the story? How many sailors? What queer spirits? What phantom creatures? Who from the church? How do these characters affect you? Are they dressed like the people of to-day? Do they talk like them? Do they act like them? What is the mariner like?

2. A wedding guest who does not know the mariner is forced to listen to his tale. Is this device effective? Is the guest meant to guide the reader's response to the mariner's tale?

3. A wedding is a social celebration of natural order and of new beginnings. Why is it significant that the mariner tells his story to a wedding guest? Would the moral of the story have been changed if the mariner told his tale to the groom or bride?

4. In later versions of the poem, Coleridge removed many archaic words and spellings that appeared in the original version. Among his revisions was the addition of the epigraph and the marginal glosses. How important are the glosses to your understanding of the poem? Does this suggest that Coleridge was successful or unsuccessful in conveying his meaning poetically?

5. What is an albatross? Do sailors ever make pets of other animals? Are sailors superstitious folk? Was the mariner sorry that he killed the bird? How did the other sailors feel about it? How do you side when you see something wrong done? Do you come out flatly for what is right and kind?

6. Many Romantics believed that a writer could only write when inspired to do so. What do Coleridge's revisions of this poem indicate about the importance of editing in the writing process?

7. Why does the mariner kill the albatross? Is his action a typically human response or trait? Why does Coleridge spend comparatively little time describing the incident?

8. What is the significance of the albatross being hung around the mariner's neck?

9. What is the great lesson of the poem? Do you ever need to hear this tale told to you? How are people unkind to animals? Do you think we have the right to keep pets, unless we can, and do, take care of them properly? How does a man betray his real character in the way he treats animals? What made the mariner's treatment of the albatross the worse?

10. The ancient mariner's shipmates all die fairly unpleasant deaths. Is it fair that they should suffer because of his actions?

11. What queer things happen in this story that make you think of fairies or demons? Who are in the phantom ship? For what does this woman, Life-in-death, stand? Which do you think is easier to die or to suffer remorse? What is the use of remorse?

12. At the beginning of part 4, the wedding guest interrupts the mariner's story to express his fears. Why does Coleridge not have the mariner tell his tale straight through?

13. What is the importance of the line, 'I looked to heaven, and tried to pray' (1. 244)?

14. Discuss the meaning and importance of the last eight lines of the poem. Is there a moral to this poem? Where it is explicitly stated?

Popular Posts

Analysis of Mulk Raj Anand’s Story, "The Lost Child": Accepted Part of Our Multicultural Neighborhood in the World

Dr. West’s New Method of Teaching English :Its Merits and Demerits

G.B. Shaw’s Radio Talk, ‘Spoken English and Broken English’:Broken English’s Relevance in Today’s English Spoken World

Critical Appreciation of William Wordsworth's The Solitary Reaper

Critical Analyses of Henry Vaughan's poem " THE RETREAT"

Analysis of Virginia Woolf's Essay "Modern Fiction"

Brief Analysis of R.K Narayan’s ‘Engine Trouble’: Greater Simplicity of Plot and Language, even as it Develops a Greater Complexity of Meaning to Exhibit the Domain of India

Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers is Autobiographical Novel- Discussion on how Autobiography has Shaped the Growth of the Theme of the Novel and how Lawrence’s Personal Experiences have Shaped the Mode and Material

Analyses, after Marcel Junod, how “Hiroshima had ceased to exist” in “The First Atom Bomb”: Brutal Destruction of Hiroshima Pains us and Makes us Aware of the Great Dangers of a Nuclear War

Critical Analysis of Rabindranath Tagore’s Story 'Kabuliwala': Love and Waiting

Interested in more Literature resources? Check these out:

My photo

An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

"Dear Readers/ Students, I am a huge fan of books, English Grammar & Literature. I write this blog to instill that passion in you."