‘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 Romanticism 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 IV
The Wdding Guest interrupts the story when he hears about the deaths of all the crewmen onboard the ship. He expresses his concern that the mariner is also dead and is telling him the story as a ghost. The Mariner assures him this isn’t the case. He was the only one to live through the ordeal. The Mariner goes back to the story and tells the Wedding Guest that solitude is the price he has to pay for his sins. He’s surrounded by dead bodies and the ocean and feels quite sorry for himself. He tries to pray but is unable to. The bodies around him don’t decay and time passes. Finally, he’s able to pray at the end of this section and the albatross falls off his neck and into the ocean.
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 poet uses 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. Eventually, alone on the ship, he faces solitude as his pennace.
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 a 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, “My lips were wet, my throat was cold, / My garments all were dank.”
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, “slid” and “soul” in line four of the first stanza of this section. Repetition also occurs more broadly in the poem with Coleridge’s use and reuse of refrains, images, and words that begin and end lines (examples of anaphora and epistrophe).
Personification 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 4: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Analysis
‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.
In this part of the poem, the Wedding-guest again enters the scene and says at this point of the story that the Ancient Mariner looks like a man possessed by a ghost. So addressing him, the frightened Wedding-guest tells him that his appearance strikes great fear into him. He adds that he is afraid of his skinny i.e. emaciated hand, and also his tall, lean, body whose skin is wrinkled and brown like the ripple-marked sea-sand.
I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.’—
Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropt not down.
The Wedding-Guest says that I am afraid of you, your sparkling eyes, and your skinny hand with so brown complexion.” Thereupon the Ancient Mariner tells him (the Wedding-Guest) not to be afraid of him. He adds that he did not die with other mariners at the time, implying that he is a living man, not a ghost.
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
Then continuing his fearful tale, the Ancient Mariner tells that after the death of his fellow mariners, he was left alone, that is he lived all alone on board on the wide ocean. His soul suffered great agony. Yet no saint ever took pity on him.
The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.
He says that there were so many mariners lying on board. And they were all handsome. Yet all of them lay dead. Now, just as countless creatures of the slimy sea lived on, even so he (the ancient mariner) continued living on board.
I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.
He says he looked on the putrefying sea, and drew his eyes away, being filled with disgust. Then he looked on the rotting deck where the dead bodies of the mariners lay.
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.
Then he looked to the sky and tried to pray. But every time an evil whisper emanated from his mouth before a prayer. And it made his heart as dry of piety as dust
I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
Here the mariner says that he closed his eyes, and kept them closed. But the eye-balls began to beat against his eye-lids, like pulses in the wrist. For the hot sky and the putrefying sea lay like a load on his weary eyes, and the dead mariners lay near his feet.
The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.
He adds that without application of bodily heat, their dead bodies were in a sweat. But they did not either rot or smell unpleasantly. Yet their open eyes still had the reproachful looks with which they died.
An orphan’s curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man’s eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.
The mariner in these lines says that an orphan’s curse is so horrible and powerful that he invokes evil upon an angel; the latter must be dragged from Heaven to hell to suffer the penalty of the curse. But, ah, the curse reflected in a dead man’s eyes is more horrible than an orphan’s curse. Now, he saw that curse in dead mariners’ eyes for seven days and seven nights. And yet he could not die.
The moving Moon went up the sky,
And nowhere did abide:
Softly she was going up,
And a star or two beside—
Every evening, the journeying moon climbed up the sky gradually. But it did not stay anywhere. Softly she went up and up, followed by a star or two, and went on moving. But, alas, he (the mariner) was standing on or laying fixedly on board.
Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmèd water burnt alway
A still and awful red.
Describing the beauty of Moon, the poet through ancient mariner says that her (moon) cool beams mocked at the hot, hot, sea, by spreading over it, like the white frost of April. But where the huge shadow of their (mariners’) ship lay, the charmed waters always burnt with flames of a constant and awful red.
Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes.
He looked beyond the shadow of the ship, and noticed the water-snakes. They moved along the slimy tracks which shone white in the moonlight. When they raised their heads, moonlit drops of slimy water falling off their heads looked like white flashes.
Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.
When the snakes came within the shadow of our ship, he watched his skins rich in colours. When they (the mariners) coiled and swam, he watched that their skins were marked with blue, shining green, and black like velvet. Since the water in the ship’s shadow burnt in flames, the track every one of them left behind looked like a flash of golden fire.
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.
The mariner says he exclaimed that they were happy living creatures whose beauty could not be described by anyone. A spring of love burst out in his heart, and also wished them happiness, unawares, surely by the grace of his kind guardian angel.
The self-same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.
In this last extract of the poem, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, the poet through the mariner says that every moment he could pray and did pray to God. Instantly the dead Albatross fell off his neck, of itself and, like lead, sank into the sea.
Readers who enjoyed the third part of this poem should also read some of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s other best-known poems. For example, ‘Kubla Khan,’ ‘The Knight’s Tomb,‘ and ‘Dejection: An Ode.’ The first of these is also quite well-known. In it, he describes Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome in a dream-like state. ‘The Knight’s Tomb’ is considered an allegory, one that focuses son an image of a blind boy. In ‘Dejection: An Ode,’ Coleridge mourns the loss of his inspiration, a period he truly experienced in the early 1800s.