- The Rime of the ancient Mariner is introduced by an “Argument” containing a short summary of the whole poem: one is made up of the captions to the right of the stanzas, which introduce the protagonist and his listener; the other is the poem itself, which deals with the extraordinary adventures of the Mariner.
- The ancient Mariner stops a wedding. He narrates how he and his fellow mariners reached the equator and the Polar Regions after a violent storm. An albatross was killed by the Mariner. Coleridge makes it significant in two ways: he does not say why the Mariner kills the albatross; secondly, this action is against nature and breaks a sacred law of life.
- The Mariner begins to suffer punishment for what he has done. The world which faces the Mariner after his crime is dead and terrible.
- In the fourth part this sense of solitude is stressed and the guilty soul of the Mariner is cut off from nature. Then the Mariner blessed the water snakes and begins to re-establish a relationship with the world of nature.
- The ship begins to move and celestial spirits stand by the corpses of the dead men.
- In the sixth part the process of healing seems to be impeded.
- In the last stanzas of the seventh part the Mariner gains the wedding guest’s sympathy. Coleridge does not tell the end of the story, but lets the reader suppose that the Mariner’s sense of guilt will end only with his death.
His years of collaboration with Wordsworth were the happiest of his life, and the most fruitful regarding poetry. The two poets shared certain ideas, like the healing and revelatory power of nature, but the contrast in style between Coleridge’s poems and those written by Wordsworth is remarkable. It does not only come from their differing temperaments; it is also the result of the way they planned the Lyrical Ballads: Wordsworth was to choose subjects from ordinary life, and Coleridge supernatural incidents and characters.
“..it was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith”.
Coleridge’s contribution to literary criticism.
Biographia Literaria, Coleridge’s most important work in prose, contains literary criticism and philosophy, and defends the new approach to poetry introduced with the Lyrical Ballads.
Moreover, both with Biographia Literaria and with his Lectures on Shakespeare, Coleridge was able to bring to life the art of Shakespeare for his fellow countrymen. His character analysis was subtle, and he was aware of the particular use of style and imagery which renders each of Shakespeare’s plays a powerful unity, which cannot and must not be divided or altered.
His wonderful lectures and conversations fascinated and influenced a new generation of writers who listened to a man who had mastered nearly every important work of literature.