‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s best-known poem it is also Coleridge’s longest poem. It was written over the course of a year from 1797 to 1798 and published immediately after in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. The poem, along with others, is often cited when speaking about the beginnings of Romaticism in England. Throughout the poem, Coleridge uses literary techniques like personification and repetition while also shifting the mood between peace, fear, and feelings of doom.
Explore The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Part II
In this section of the poem, the Mariner describes what happened after he shot the albatross. They feel the absence of the bird and express dismay in regards to the Mariner’s choice. The men try to justify what happened, suggesting that perhaps it actually brought them good luck. But, unfortunately the wind dies down and the calm sea becomes an omen of bad luck. The mean are stuck around water they can’t drink.
Coleridge engages with themes of sins/forgiveness and nature in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ The nature imagery in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is impossible to avoid. Throughout the poem, the poetuses nature as the controlling force in the Mariner’s life, and those of his fellow men. At various points it appears that nature is on their side, except, of course, after the Mariner makes the mistake of kill the albatross. It’s then that their little bit of luck runs out and they face many stanzas of hardship. The Mariner spends the rest of the poem paying for the one, great sin of killing the bird. This section also brings in the theme of responsibility.
Structure and Form
The text is in short ballad stanzas that are usually four or six lines long. But, some reach as many as nine lines in length. The meter is only sometimes structured. The odd lines are usually in tetrameter while the even lines are in trimeter, features of ballad stanzas. The rhyme scheme is usually either ABAB or ABABAB but there are some alterations, for example, some stanzas rhyme ABCCB or ABAAB.
‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is a lyrical ballad i.e. a poem written in the form and style of a folk ballad which is usually written by an anonymous person. The ballad is a narrative song-poem, usually relating a single, dramatic incident or story, in a form suitable for singing or rhythmical chanting.
Folk ballads often have sudden dramatic beginnings, are written in the form of a dialogue usually between the narrator and the listeners as well as between characters. The language is simple but there is plenty of repetition and use of archaic words. There is sudden change of action besides music and rhythm. The poem contains all these characteristics. Hence, it is a ballad although not a folk-ballad.
Coleridge makes use of several literary devices in this part of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ as well as in all the other sections. These include but are not limited to personification, alliteration, repetition, and imagery. The latter is one of the most important techniques a poet can use in their work. Without it, readers might leave the poem interested or unmoved by what they read. For example, “Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head, / The glorious Sun uprist” and “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, / The furrow followed free.”
Alliteration is a type of repetition that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Sun” and “sea” in lines one and two of stanza one of part two. Repetition also occurs more broadly in the poem with Coleridges use and reuse of refrains, images, and words that begin and end lines (examples of anaphora and epistrophe).
Personificaiton is another technique readers can find throughout ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ Coleridge personifies the water, death, and the albatross at various moments in the poem.
Part 2: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Analysis
The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.
In this second part of the poem, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner by S.T. Coleridge, the weather has completely changed. The Sun has appeared although there is still a thick layer of mist in the air. Earlier, it was foggy and misty only with no trace of Sun in the sky. The poet has used personification. The Sun is treated as a human being.
The Mariner says that the Sun now rose out of the sea on the right side of the ship. It was hidden in mist all day. In the evening, it sank into the sea on their left i.e. it set in the West.
And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariner’s hollo!
The favourable south wind still blew, pushing the ship northward. But the sweet bird that used to come to them every day either for food or for play with them was no more to follow them. In the second line of this stanza, the bird has been called ‘sweet’ because it was an innocent bird of good omen.
Sweet also conveys the guilty feeling the ancient Mariner finds himself in the killing the bird. He regrets the killing. The fellow sailors called the bird to feed it and to play with it. Many of them were calling it by force of habit though they knew that it had been killed. In the line: ‘Nor any day for food or play’, ‘day’ and ‘play’ rhyme with each other.
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!
Please mind here that ‘I’ in these lines is the ancient Mariner while ‘they’ are his fellow sailors. All the shipmates of the Ancient Mariner condemned his action of killing the Albatross. They said that he had done a devilish thing and it would bring them misfortune. They said that he had killed the bird of good omen that had caused the favourable wind to blow. They declared the Mariner a w retched being for having killed the Albatross.
The ‘hellish thing’ done by the Mariner in this stanza is that he had wantonly killed the Albatross, an innocent bird of good omen, whose arrival had coincided with the blowing of the south wind. Due to the commission of this hellish thing their ship got stuck in the middle of the hot and sultry silent sea. With no water to drink and no ray of hope to brighten them up, they went through a lot of physical and mental agony.
Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.
But now the bright sun rose, neither dim nor red, but luminous and glorious like the haloed head of God. The sailors declared that the Mariner had done the right thing by killing the bird that had brought fog and mist. They said that it was right that such birds that brought fog and mist should be killed. The use of simile in the first line of this stanza is that the round sun looks like the head of God.
The Sun has been described as ‘glorious’ because it shines brilliantly. Its brightness stands in contrast to the dullness of the recently spent days. This stanza also shows the two contrary views of the sailors who earlier had condemned the killing of the bird as sinful. But now they approve of it, and hold the bird responsible for the fog and the mist. This change of attitude in sailors shows that they are opportunistic and fickle-minded. Their attitude reflects upon the immaturity of their minds.
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
A favourable gentle wind blew. The white foam flew off the surface of the ocean. The ship sailed onward calmly and the track made by it was clearly visible. It seemed to them that they were the first people who had ever come to that silent sea. There is a use of alliteration in the first two lines of this stanza. There is a repetition of ‘F’ and ‘b’ sounds which creates a musical effect besides conveying the idea of the smooth and swift gliding movement of the ship whereas the use of the word ‘furrow’ illustrate metaphor in this stanza. And the word furrow refers to the splitting of water caused behind a ship due to its forward movement. The line ‘The furrow followed free’ suggests that the ship sailed on smoothly.
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 wind stopped blowing. The sails too dropped. There was complete silence all around. It was a very sad situation. The eerie silence of the sea was broken only by the sailors’ talk.
The ‘breeze’ had stopped blowing because the Albatross’s wrongful killing had begun to show its effects. The ancient Mariner and his fellow sailors are about to be punished for the ‘sin’.
It is to be noted that lines in this para create an atmosphere of eerie silence and absolute inactivity. The atmosphere leaves the sailors full of suspense, fear and uncertainty.
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
The sky looked like heated copper. The sun looked blood red. Even at noon, it stood vertically above the mast and looked as small as the moon. Again there is a use of metaphor in this stanza when the poet says: ‘a hot and copper sky’ and ‘The bloody Sun’. The sun is blazing red and scorching hot. It is also ‘blood’ red in colour, hence it has been called ‘bloody sun’. To the sailors, the harsh weather signifies that they have to face and suffer under this type of weather due to the ‘sin’ of killing of Albatross. It is a part of the punishment they being subjected to. These lines also tell about the location of the ship. The ship is on or near the equator because the sun is very harsh and is at a vertical angle at noon – a phenomenon that occurs in the equatorial region only.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
The ship remained stuck at one place day after day. It did not move because there was neither wind nor tide. It looked just like the picture of a ship on the sea. The ancient Mariner and his fellow sailors on board their ship were stuck in the middle of the silent sea. And they were brought into this condition because the mariners had drifted into the silent sea where there was neither wind nor tide, hence they were stranded there. There is a use of simile in the last two lines of this stanza. It graphically describes the pictures of a becalmed ship on a silent and still ocean. Hence, it is very apt, and the repetition conveys the sheer length of time the sailors’ ship was stuck up in the middle of the ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
The Mariner says that though the ship was surrounded by water all sides yet the very boarder of the ship began to crack and shrink because of the excessive heat. They were in the midst of so much water, but there wasn’t even a drop they could drink. These lines have the repetition of ‘w’ sound, while the repetition of the line: ‘Water, water, everywhere,’ signifies the peculiar fate the sailors had to face. Although they were surrounded by immeasurable amount of sea water, they had not a drop of water to wet their parched mouths. The repetition gauges the extent of their misery. And the sailors have ‘not a drop’ to drink because their supply of fresh water was exhausted and they simply could not drink the salty sea water.
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
The sea itself began to rot due to no movement in the wind or the water. Very repulsive sea-creatures could be seen crawling with their ugly legs on the sticky and slimy glue-like water of the sea. It was a horrible sight to see. They remarked that Lord Christ should save everyone from such a frightening situation.
‘The very deep’ here refers to the sea which was stagnant, war and full of stench. In these lines, the ancient Mariner invokes Christ because the invocation conveys the ancient Mariner’s deep sense of agony and repentance at having killed the Albatross. Now only Christ can save his rotting and sinful soul.
There is an element of irony in this invocation while the ancient Mariner seeks Christ’s help to save his soul after committing the sin of killing a Christian soul, i.e. the Albatross.
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.
Death-fires shone and hoverd all about them at night. Their luminous lights appeared to be dancing and wheeling around the ship. The sea-water burnt like the oils burnt by the witches emitting multi-coloured lights. This stanza has simile in the last two lines. The reference here is to the three witches in Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’. The water seems to be burning with crackling sparkles of many colours. The element of supernaturalism here prepares us for what is to follow. The ‘reel’ and ‘rout’ though actually is a type of dance movements, here they describe the movement of the death-fires as they fly, while the ‘death-fires’ represent evil forces or Death.
And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.
Some of the sailors had a dream that a spirit was avenging the death of the Albatross and had been following their ship from the land of mist and snow. It had been moving all the while nine fathom deep in the water. It is to be noted that ‘some’ has been used for the fellow sailors of the Ancient Mariner in the very first line of this stanza, while ‘Nine fathom deep’, means a fathom that is a measure of depth equal to six meters. Thus, the Polar spirit was following the sailors fifty four meters under water. Please note that Coleridge’s obsession with the number 9 is again evident here as it was in case of ‘vespers nine’ previously in the poem.
And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
For utter want to water, the sailors’ tongues dried up at the very root. They just could not speak. They felt as if their throats had been choked with soot (solidified smoke). There is a use of metaphor in these lines. The comparison is between the dry and dehydrated tongues and the roots of a plant which have withered due to lack of water.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
The sailors looked at the Mariner accusingly. They could not speak but their looks revealed the contempt they felt for him. They removed the cross from round his neck and hung the dead Albatross there as a punishment for his evil deed.
The poet or Mariner here says: ‘instead of three cross’ the Albatross was hung around his neck because many Christians wear a cross round their necks as a protection against evil forces. The sinful soul of the ancient Mariner needed a cross to save itself. The sailors instead hung the dead Albatross round his neck as a mark of his sin and guilt.
This stanza again shows the changed attitude of sailors towards the death of Albatross. First they condemned it by saying that the Albatross was a bird of good omen. It had made the breeze to blow. Later on they approve of its killing, and held it responsible for the fog and the mist. Then once again they accused the Mariner for making their lives miserable by killing the Albatross.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ should also consider reading some of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s other best-known poems. For example, ‘Dejection: An Ode,’ ‘Frost at Midnight,’ and ‘Love.’ The first of these laments the poet’s perceived decline in imagination and creativity in the early 1800s. ‘Love’ details the emotional relationship between the speaker and the woman he woos through storytelling while ‘Frost at Midnight’ is a short poem from Conversational Poems. It was composed to celebrate the birth of his son Hartley.