The Rime” is one of the 4 poems that Coleridge contributed to the total of 23; it is a seven-part narrative poem, the story is told by the Ancient Mariner himself to an unwilling listener on his way to a wedding.
During a voyage his ship was driven by a storm towards the South pole and caught in floating ice. Suddenly an albatross arrived and the sailors hailed it as a sign of good luck, soon after the ice split, the wind blew and the ship, followed by the bird, sailed north until the Mariner shot the albatross without a reason. The ship reached the Equator and here the wind dropped. The Mariner and the crew were becalmed, the water supply ran out, they saw disgusting water snakes crawling on the surface of the sea. The sailors blamed the Mariner and hung around his neck the body of the albatross to remind him of his evil deed. After that a skeleton of a ship arrived with Spectre-Woman and Life-in-Death as the only crew. The two cast dice and Life-in-Death won the Mariner. Immediately the Mariner’s shipmates died dropping on the deck and the Mariner was left alone. He tried to pray but he could not. One night he watched again the water snakes and this time he was impressed by their beauty and blessed them. At last he could pray and the spell was immediately broken and the bird fell off his neck into the sea. The dead bodies of his shipmates inhabited by angelic spirits began to work again and the ship moved to the Mariner’s native land. The Mariner was safe but he had a penance, he was condemned to wander through the world, relate his tale for all eternity.
The poem contains the traditional features of the ballad: the combination of dialogue and narration, the four-line stanza, frequent repetition, alliteration and internal rhyme, the theme of travel and wandering and supernatural elements. The presence of a moral at the end makes this poem quite different from a traditional ballad.
This poem has been interpreted in many ways:
- it may be the description of a dream which allows the poet to relate the supernatural and the less conscious part of his psyche, a voyage of interior discovery.
- it may be an allegory of the life of the soul in its passage from crime, through punishment, to redemption; a moral parable of man from original sin (the killing) through punishment (isolation), repentance (the blessing of the water snakes), penitence (the obsessive repetition of the story to its final redemption).
- a description of the poetic journey of Romanticism. The mariner is the poet, possessed by a song that derives from guilt. This guilt is the origin of poetry, the regret for a state of lost innocence caused by the Industrial Revolution or an attempt to rediscover it telling a symbolic story of this loss.
- It may be an allegory of life with its sea voyage where the crew represents mankind, the albatross the pact of love that unites God’s creatures, the ship is a microcosm in which the evil deeds of a single person falls on others as often happens in life.
The Imagination is contrasted with Fancy which is inferior to it ( a kind of mechanical faculty which enables a poet to associate metaphors, similes and other poetical devices).
Coleridge sums up all those elements which constitutes the spirit of Romanticism:
- Ballad structure and themes
- Medieval setting
- The mystery and the supernatural used as a technique of psychological revelation
- Nature (C. does not find happiness or consolation in it)
- Exoticism (poems set in distant times and places)
- Music (he uses special sounds, words, devices (alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, repetition in order to create an unreal atmosphere).
According to Coleridge Imagination is divided into 2 types: Primary and Secondary Imagination.
Primary Imagination is the faculty by which we perceive the world around us. It’s common to all human beings.
Secondary Imagination is the poetic vision, a faculty of the mind of the poet who interprets, shapes and recreates its experiences.
Differences between Coleridge and Wordsworth: both despise Fancy and exalt Imagination.
For W. Imagination modifies and transforms the data of experience through the recollection in tranquillity, for C. Imagination transcends the data of experience and creates in the true sense of the word. W.’s poetry is meditative while that of C. is passionate and mysterious.