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Considered to be one of the first Romantic Movement Lyrical Ballads, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) is a poem about the supernatural, nature, and transformation. Written between 1797 and 1798, it was published in Coleridge’s collaboration with William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads (1798).
|Written in||1797 - 1798|
|Written by||Samuel Taylor Coleridge|
|Shape/style||Romantic Movement - Lyrical Ballad|
Various, examples include iambic pentameter and tetrameter.
|Frequently noted imagery|
|Summary||A mariner inexplicably kills an albatross, usually a good omen for sailors. The albatross and the weather exact retribution on the entire crew in a variety of supernatural ways.The mariner suffers greatly but cannot die, unlike his crew. More supernatural events lead to his crew coming back to life, as well as another change of weather.The mariner comes to understand that nature is all-important and to be cared for. He lives to tell his tale to others, notably an unwilling wedding guest.|
Born in Devonshire, England on 21 October 1772, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the last of ten children born to Ann and John Coleridge. His father was the vicar of Ottery Saint Mary and died in 1782 when Coleridge was just 10 years old.
Soon afterward, Coleridge was sent to Christ’s Hospital to study Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and English composition under the tutelage of Reverend James Bowyer. This is where he began to develop his poetic theories and style.
A long-time collaborator and friend of William Wordsworth, Coleridge is considered a pioneer of the British Romantic Movement. Apart from his works of poetry, he was a prolific writer of literary criticism. Despite an ongoing opium addiction, his adult years were productive in terms of innovative poetic works and critiques on philosophy, poetry, politics, and religion. He is widely regarded as a co-founder of the Romantic Movement and influential to the Gothic genre.
Despite being written during a time when Britain was engaged in the French Revolutionary Wars, The Irish Rebellion, and the Anglo-Spanish wars, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner is not regarded as overt in its themes of war or politics.
This stands in contrast to some of Coleridge's other writing of this era. While Coleridge was not an unaware observer of world events, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner is more often viewed as a response to the Industrial Revolution and the move away from nature towards cities and the increased use of technology.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was published in 1798 in Lyrical Ballads, a volume considered to have started the British Romantic Movement. The preceding age of Enlightenment lasted from 1685 to 1815, so there was some overlap between the two movements. While the Enlightenment revered precision, logic, reason, and scientific progress, the Romantic Movement was all about emotion, nature, the supernatural, and imagination.
The Enlightenment period took place between the 17th and 18th centuries and is considered to have built on the work of the Scientific Revolution. During both of these times, great scientific and mathematical progress was made and views on politics and the law shifted considerably.
Romanticism (1800 - 1850) followed this era and was a reaction against seeing the human being simply as a 'thinking machine'. It placed an emphasis on imagination, the supernatural, and emotion. Romanticism also called for a focus on nature rather than industrialisation.
This epic poem is fairly long, as far as poems go, so we have summarised it here.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is split into seven sections and is 143 stanzas long. Many of the 143 stanzas consist of 4 lines regarded as quatrains. This structure is not consistent throughout the poem, though, with variations including 18 five-line stanzas, 17 six-line stanzas, and one nine-line stanza. This versatility in form conveys different moods and adds alternating rhythm and pace.
Coleridge varies his rhyme scheme by differing the lengths of the stanzas, and also makes use of internal rhyme, usually in the penultimate line. You can see how Coleridge's use of rhyme scheme differs by the length of the stanza by looking at the variations below:
Can you find two examples of internal rhyme in the poem The Rime of The Ancient Mariner? Why do you think Coleridge uses this device?
In line with his approach to form and rhyme scheme, Coleridge also has a versatile approach to the meter in The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. You can see the different uses of meter in the examples below:
In poetry, an ‘iamb’ is a foot that consists of an unstressed syllable and then a stressed syllable. 'Penta' is Greek for 5. Together, an iambic pentameter is a line with 5 iambs and 10 syllables that sound like this: duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh- DUH, duh- DUH, duh-DUH.
Iambic tetrameter is a line with four iambs of stressed and unstressed syllables that sound like this: duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh-DUH.
Iambic trimeter consists of three iambs of stressed and unstressed syllables. The sound is like this: duh-DUH, duh-DUH, duh- DUH.
Coleridge mainly makes use of personification, repetition, and alliteration to convey mood, tone, and rhythm.
Probably the most-used device in this poem, repetition occurs at the letter, word, phrase, sentence, and stanza level. Although often used to convey meaning, Coleridge uses it chiefly to create poetic rhythm.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald."
The ice was all between
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around."
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere
Nor any drop to drink."
The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner."
The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner."
Another device used extensively by Coleridge in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is alliteration. Again, he uses this chiefly to create rhythm.
Below we have underlined alliteration of 's', also known as sibilance. Can you spot any other examples of alliteration in the excerpt?
The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.
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.
Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—'
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.
The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before she goes
The merry minstrelsy."
Coleridge uses personification to address what he sees as the imbalance created by the power struggle between man and nature. For example, in the quote below, he grants the weather human characteristics that connect nature to mankind, putting both on an equal footing.
The Rime of The Ancient Mariner contains extensive use of imagery. Imagery appeals to the human senses, making the poem seem more realistic and relatable. Consider the two stanzas below. How does Coleridge use imagery to convey the rapid change in weather? Can you see the change in the sails or imagine a sudden silence after reading the two stanzas?
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!"
The fatally calm sea in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Image via Pexels.
The key symbol in the poem is, of course, the albatross. Traditionally considered to be a good
omen by sailors, the albatross symbolises many different things at different stages of the poem.
Initially, it is a good omen. Once shot by the mariner and hung around his neck, it becomes a
symbol of penance.
And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner's hollo! "
Ah! well, a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung."
More abstractly, the albatross can also be symbolic of nature as a whole and its
relationship to mankind.
This is debatable but it is generally agreed that a key point is that nature is an important aspect of mankind's environment and should be treated accordingly.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote the Lyrical Ballad, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was written between 1997 and 1978.
A Mariner inexplicably kills an albatross. The albatross and the weather exact retribution on the entire crew in a variety of supernatural ways.
He survives to tell his tale and to learn the lesson of nature's importance.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is 143 stanzas long.
What movement does the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) belong to?
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) belongs to the Romantic Movement.
What kind of poem is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) ?
How many stanzas does The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) have?
What represents nature in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)?
Which volume did The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) appear in?
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) was published in Lyrical Ballads (1798).
Who was Samuel Taylor Coleridge's friend and Romantic Movement collaborator?
What themes exist in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)?
What is an albaross usually seen as by sailors?
A good omen
How many poems did Samuel Taylor Coleridge publish in Lyrical Ballads?
Who does the Mariner tell his tale to?
A wedding guest
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