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Coleridge, Samuel Taylor-the Rime of the ancient mariner

The poem, included in "Lyrical Ballads" is a mixture of gothic fiction, travel literature and traditional ballad (popular genre; lots of repetitions; rhyme; simple language; lots of stanzas). William Wordsworth wrote some important parts of the poem, for example the killing of the Albatross. Realistic and supernatural elements are combined. As to supernatural elements, no rational explanation is given at the end.

Plot

An old Mariner from nowhere meets three wedding guests and stops one of them to tell him a story. The man is fascinated by his glittering eye and cannot help listening to him. The Mariner starts his tale. The ship he was in was sailing towards the South Pole during a thunderstorm. Suddenly a seabird, an Albatross, came; he was welcomed by the crew as a sign of good luck. However, the Mariner killed him in a sudden decision and there was no reason for his behavior. The first punishment he must suffer was when the rest of the crew put a rope with the dead Albatross around his neck. The ship stopped because of an evil spell. The crew was dying of thirst when a ghost ship appeared. It was driven by Death and Life-in-Death, who played ad dice with the crew’s lives. They all died, but the Mariner survived because he had to expiate his sin. The Mariner was obsessed with the memory of the dead men. He also saw sea snakes moving around the ship and spirits who looked like hid dead shipmates. The ship reached the Mariner’s native land. There, he found a small boat with a holy hermit in it. As soon as the mariner got into the boat, the ship sank. The Mariner asked the hermit to hear his confession and finally his soul found peace. But he’s compelled to tell everyone his story and teach other people what he has learnt: all God’s creatures have to be respected and loved.

Symbols

The Mariner: he represents the wondering Jew, that is someone who can’t find because of persecution; as a matter of fact he’s compelled to wonder and tell everyone his story. Through his experience, the Mariner is also a symbol of man’s fall, his punishment, his repentance and his salvation. As a matter of fact, the killing of the Albatross is a crime against the laws of nature, and the result is God’s punishment; the Mariner has to expiate his sin and finally his soul finds peace.
The Albatross: Christ, imagination, the original sin.
The Sun: the power of reason.
The Moon: the power of imagination.

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