Samuel Taylor Coleridge ( 1772 - 1834 )
Coleridge was a fine poet, speaker and journalist and a literary critic. He was born in the south of England. He attended the Christ's Hospital school in London where he received an excellent education in the classics, but after a turbulent time he failed to finish his degree. He sympathised with the French revolution and he wanted, with his friend Robert Southey, to go to America to establish a "Pantisocracy", an idealistic democratic community, but this project failed and he stopped to believe in revolutionary ideas. In 1797 he met William Wordswarth and his sister Dorothy and with him, he devised the Lyrical Ballads, in which he wrote his most important poetic works. Lather this friendship came to end. he became addicted to opium and this brought him to death in 1834.
● Biographia Literaria
● The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
● Kubla Khan
● Frost at Midnight
● Christabel and Other Poems
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
● Content. This is a long poem written in the form of a ballad and it is made up of seven parts. It is set in a boudless sea with days with pitiless sun and nights lit by the moon. It is introduced by a short argument that contains the summary of the poem. It consists of two narratives:
I - the captions of the stanzas, that are the framework of the story;
II - the poem itself.
● Story. In the first part the Ancient mariner stops a wedding guest to tell him his story and how he and his crew reached the equator and the south regions after a violent storm. After several days an albatross is seen and the mariner shoot it. The shooting of the albatross is seen as an act of cruelty that has engaged supernatural spirits which follow the ship. The mariner starts to suffer punishment to what he has done and the crew is tortured by thirst: the only things moving are slimy creatures in the sea. The crew blames the mariner for this and they hang the albatross around the mariner's neck as a sign of guilt. Suddenly a ship approaches from west and there are Death (a skeleton) and Death-In-Life (a pale woman) that are playing dice: Death wins the crew and the second one wins the mariner's soul. So the crew die, and when the ship is returning in the harbour, it sinks and the Mariner is the only survivor. The mariner starts the process of expiation by praying and so his soul is ready to expiate the guilt, by narrating his story to people.
● Atmosphere and characters. The whole poem is full of mystery because of the combination of supernatural aspects and commonplace. The mariner and his comrades are hardly characters in any dramatic sense. They are more types than human beings and their agonies are simply universally human. The mariner does not speak as a moral agent, he is passive in guilt and remorse. when he acts, he does so blindly, under compulsion. From his paralysis of conscience the mariner succeeds in gaining his authority, thought he pays for it by remaining in condition of an outcast. Coleridge makes him spectator as well as actor in the drama, so that he can recount even his worst terrors with the calm of lucid retrospection.
● The summaries. Also called captions, they are a comment from the point of view of an external narrator, that keep the story into a fixed framework. But who is this narrator? There are three theories about:
I - They might represent an old Coleridge that, after the first edition of the poem, wanted to give a moralisti meaning to his poem.
II - They might be the echoes of the numerous listeners of the tale of the mariner, hypnotised by this one.
III - More probably they are a way to give to the reader a poetic faith and to make him suspend his disbelief.
The First imagination
It is at the bases of the process of knowledge: thanks to this we can order our perceptions and we can transform them into ideas. This is the human faculty to produce images.
The Secondary imagination
It is more powerful than First and it is the imagination of the poet. Secondary imagination does note only order, but it creates new worlds. It unifies the many different aspects of the natural world.
It is connected only to things that already exists and it is not a creative power . It is only a mechanic work.
Coleridge believes that the supernatural world is connected to the natural and real world. In fact the mariner is between these two aspects and he is able to participate in both.