Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Since he was very young Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) always showed a great love for reading.
When his father died, when was just 10 years old, he was sent to a charity school, where he proved a very smart and intelligent boy.
Eight years later he went to Cambridge, where he attended the University, but he left his studies some time later. It was in this period, however, that he started to write poems.
Coleridge always suffered terrible headaches, and for this reason he often used to assume opium, a drug frequently prescribed at that time to heal certain kinds of disease. The frequent use and abuse of opium made him dependent, thus conditioning his life. It was not rare that while he was on drugs he used to have strange visions, probably the same visions that inspired, sometime later, even his most famous works.
In 1794 Coleridge met Southey, and, both inspired by the new ideas of equality and freedom that in those years were spread all over Europe and across the ocean, with him he planned to go to America with the utopic purpose to found a community formed by 12 men and 12 women, all with the same rights and without private propriety.
His aim was basically to abolish every cause of evil among people.
As it’s easy to imagine, Coleridge and his friend Southey never managed to do such a thing. They however reached America, were they met two sisters that they married.
Two years later Coleridge became friend of William Wordsworth and their friendship was very productive. It also helped him change his political ideas: in that period Coleridge turned into a reactionary.
Coleridge and Wordsworth also went to Germany together, where they read the works of Kant (the famous philosopher) and studied German idealism.
Then, Coleridge fell in love with Sarah Hutchinson, the sister of Wordsworth’s wife to be, and for her he wrote his last poet.
Then he moved to Malta, leaving his wife and children, hoping to improved his health and get better.
He there started to read Shakespeare’s works, thus becoming one of the best Shakespeare critics. It’s not unlikely to think that, exalting Shakespeare’s genius, Coleridge has contributed to make Shakespearian comedies and tragedies even more popular and famous in time.
When he had an argument with Wordsworth, Coleridge decided to eventually leave Malta and come back to England.
He died in London in 1834.
The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner
The one we are going to talk about is probably the most famous Coleridge’s work.
The story told in this work of fine poetry is quite odd, but fascinating too.
There are three characters at the beginning, invited to a wedding, that meet an ancient mariner. In his eyes, that are red, there is a special light. He has stopped these three characters because he wants to tell them his unbelievable story. Actually they really wouldn’t like to listen to that strange man’s tale that’s annoying them, but the mariner’s eyes have a magnetic force.
At the end, just one of the three men stays with the ancient mariner, ready to hear what he has to say.
The mariner starts telling his delirious story: while he was on board of his ship, he killed a beautiful albatross, come to save him from a storm, to guide him and his crew through the black clouds. That albatross has of course a symbolical meaning: it represents Jesus, sent by God to show mankind the way to defeat death and evil. After the mariner killed the albatross, a terrible tempest occurred, and the violent waves of the sea swallowed his ship and everyone who was on it. The only one to survive was just the ancient mariner. And that’s the end of the story.
The ancient mariner is surely a legendary character, like the wandering Jew (guilty to have killed Jesus and meant not to find peace in his life for that) or Cain. All these famous characters have the same destiny: after committing a crime, they are all condemned to wander for long time to expiate their fault.
But the mariner is also the representative of man’s fall, punishment and salvation. He could also be seen as the long process leading from spiritual death to rebirth.
The albatross may represent the love of God, that links men to nature. When the mariner kills it, he breaks this link and the beautiful friendship between the albatross and the ship’s crew.
Probably, of the three characters that are going to the wedding only one is chosen because his impatient behavior and lack of solidarity makes him more similar to the man the ancient mariner was before his terrible story began. But he could also represent, in a certain way, the readers: this story has been written to make people think about themselves and their faults, and at the end of the story he turns into a “sadder and wiser man”.