Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner #

I. Subject Matter and Context #

Perhaps the most famous poem in the English language, this epic narrative is not a traditional ballad though it shares many of those features. It was a project, to bring poetry back to the masses, initially shared with Wordsworth, who soon realized the enormity of the task, withdrew but offered moral support. A friend’s frightening dream of a skeleton ship provided a stimulus for the plot.

We need to appreciate society’s fascination of the supernatural during this time so invisible forces, headless ghosts, and faceless horrors feature then as now.

The poem written in 1798 took four months to complete.

According to Ernle Bradford, this is probably the greatest sea poem in history, yet at the time of writing, Coleridge had never had any experience of sea voyages. It was not until six months after The Ancient Mariner was completed that Coleridge first took a small ship from Yarmouth to Cuxhaven.

The artist of genius is as absorbent as a sponge and soaks up other people’s experiences and writings and transforms them into realistic recreations to inspire others.


How a Ship having passed the Line was driven by storms to the cold Country towards the South Pole ; and how from thence she made her course to the tropical Latitude of the Great Pacific Ocean ; and of the strange things that befell ; and in what manner the Ancyent Marinere came back to his own Country.

II. Themes: #

· We are all part of “one life” yet as isolated, insular and alienated as the mariner and the wedding guest.

· Coleridge evokes the power of the imagination to conjure other possibilities in life.

The power of catharsis; sin needs to be expiated; the therapeutic need for penance, absolution, redemptive; we are all imperfect yet:

§ For the dear God who loveth us,He made and loveth all”

Part of his penance is his compulsion to tell people of his guilt and suffering.

III. Sound Effects #

Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects, verbal music. It’s rhyme. Rhythm and melody. Assonance, alliteration. onomatopoeia. etc. (Blending repetition patterns. slow/fast movement, harsh, discordant, sibilance, sotto, allegro, Rhapsodic, lyrical, elegiac, upbeat, blue, staccato, dirge, ode, Melody. tone. mood. atmosphere. voice.

Like the wedding guest we are caught or mesmerized by the spell woven by the lulling descriptions, the direct colloquial narrative, the lilting rhythms, regular ‘rimes’, rich tapestry of images, symbols and the searing pain of the narrator so that (we) “he cannot choose but hear’.

His incantatory repetitions and use of onomatopoeia can be spellbinding and have a hypnotic, haunting effect on us.

“The ice was here, the ice was there, The ice was all around: It cracked and growled, an roared and Howled,….” (RAM) ll. 59 – 62

Verbal music includes: rhyme, rhythm, assonance, melody, pitch, slow, fast, light, heavy, alliteration, onomatopoeia, blending of words, repetition patterns, tone, voice, mood, atmosphere. It can have some subliminal effect upon the listener, an almost hypnotic or haunting counterpart. We can be caught or mesmerized by the spell woven by the lulling descriptions, the direct colloquial narrative, the lilting rhythms, regular ‘rimes’, rich tapestry of images, symbols and the searing feelings of the narrator. * *Incantatory repetitions and use of onomatopoeia can have a hypnotic, haunting effect on us.

Poets often deliberately use incantation and repetition in an attempt to cast a spell over their readers, allowing them to escape reality and enter the world of dreams, imagination and fantasy.

Many religions use these to cast a spell and suspend people’s reasoning processes. The Gregorian monophonic chant, the Buddhist mantras, the Dervish Whirling Dance attempt to achieve religious ecstasy through cognitive interference.

A mantra is an instrument of the mind, a powerful sound or vibration that you can use to enter a deep state of meditation. The claim that these connect us to a deeper consciousness is countered by arguments that they disconnect us from reality.

Critics have for centuries debated the effect of repetitive sound patterns – predominantly, rhyme assonance and alliteration – upon our standard cognitive mechanisms.

No firm conclusions have been reached but by consensus it is accepted that they interfere with our ability to make sense of language. They create a layer of echoes that runs as a counter-current to the conventional relationship between phonetics and semantics, sound and meaning. A Definition of Poetry : the double pattern, Professor Richard Bradford, Professor of English, University of Ulster

Our imagination helps us vicariously experience the chill and isolation of the experience.

Alienation or existential isolation is evocatively created through the sound effects of awed vowels and the eerie sibilants of :

Alone, alone, all, all, alone
Alone, on a wide, wide sea

And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

The alliteration, assonance and powerful punchy verbs resonate and create an immediacy not only evocative but help us empathise .

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free; We were the first that ever burst Into that silent sea.

Down dropped the breeze, the sails dropped down, Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea. (11. 103 – 10)




Structure: linear, circular, episodic, flash backs, climatic.

Images: (visual, auditory, o1factory, tactile, ,gustatory) Figures of speech: similes, metaphors, personification, analogy, synecdoche, Contrast, antithesis, unity, irony, Allusions, etc*

A Dramatic Monologue though we do hear from the wedding guest from time to time.


Sailor – the ferryman who takes Heracles to Hades?

Sun – image of heat, conscious thought, reason, logic, - harsh and destructive

Moon – emotional, reflective, unconscious, - love, restoration, redemptive.

Sea - the Mother of all Life; spiritual mystery, and infinity; death and rebirth; timelessness and eternity; the unconscious.

Albatross – symbol of harmony in nature, unity, but becomes symbol of guilt hanging around his neck. Killing of bird – sudden, senseless and pointless – a crime against nature, therefore God.

Mist- confusion - driven away by the sun.

Winds – crew fickle – change with the winds.

Metonymy: “A Sail! A sail!” ll, 161

Simile: “An every soul, it passed me by,

Like the whiz of my cross-bow!” (Onomatopoeia) ll. 222-3.


Approach: Subjective/Objective, Attitude or Tone, Audience,
Style:diction, word play, puns, connotative/denotative, emotive (coloured biased,) /demotive, (technical, dispassionate) clichés, proverbial, idiomatic, expressive, flat, Jargon, euphemisms, pejorative, oxymoron. Gender biases.
Register: formal, stiff, dignified or Colloquial; relaxed, conversational, inclusive, friendly or Slang; colourful, intimate,
Rhetorical devices; Questions, exclamations, cumulation, crescendo, inversion, bathos, repetition, 3 cornered phrases.

Relaxed direct colloquial speech captures us so we feel we are right there overhearing the conversation.

The use of the vernacular (common speech) is a further attempt to bring poetry back to the masses.

Much of the language to us is archaic:

Averred – contended

Weal - welfare or good

Gossamers - light flimsy threads – spider’s webs.

Sere - withered worn, dried up.