English Romanticism saw poetry as the best way to give expression to emotional experience and individual feelings. The first generation of poets tried to theorize about poetry. In fact in England Romanticism was born in 1798, as the book “Lyrical Ballads” was published. In its Preface there are written the ideas of Wordsworth about Romanticism. But it was only a Movement: there were not specifically rules. We can find two important and different literary theories: Wordsworth’s one (describing the beauty of nature and ordinary things in order to make them interesting for the reader) and Coleridge’s one (dealing with visionary topics, the supernatural and mystery).
He produced a collection of poems called Lyrical Ballads, which contained the “Preface”, which became the “Manifesto of English Romanticism”. He proposed poetry as a radically solitary act, originated not in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary. The subject should deal with everyday situations and ordinary people, i.e. common things and the life of peasants. They are still unspoiled by modernity, money, progress and the civilization caused by the Industrial Revolution. They are happy because the live near nature. The language needs to be simple to be understood by everyone. The objects should be mentioned homely and called by their ordinary names. So the language is the one of the peasants, purified by everything disgusting or vulgar. In rural life man is nearer to his own purer passions. The poet is a man among men, writing about what interests mankind. But he as a deeper sensibility, he can perceive the beauty and can explain it to other people. He as to make everything special, and he uses imagination, i.e. a touch of colour, making the common things of the every day’s reality more special and beautiful. Wordsworth is a poet with a mission.
He is interested in the relationship between the natural world and the human consciousness, the emotion and sensations which arise from this contact. Man and nature are inseparable, man exists as an active participant in the world. Nature includes both inanimate and human nature. It is a source of pleasure and joy, it make man happy in an everlasting way. But, what man has made of man? We left nature, we live in a spoiled society, we can’t be happy anymore. Without nature our happiness can’t last, we can’t enjoy what is enjoyable. Wordsworth has a pantheistic vision of nature: it is describe as a shelter, a heaven, and holy, all religion-related words. In fact God is in Nature. He shows us Himself through the Nature He created. While being in Nature, we are in touch with Him.
• The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
He considered two kind of imagination:
1. Primary Imagination: connected with human perceptions and the individual power to reproduce images. It’s the ability to perceive the elements of the world giving chaos and order. It is used unconsciously by everybody.
2. Secondary Imagination: is voluntary, used consciously by everyone in a different way. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate reality. Man doesn’t only perceive the world around him, but has also the faculty to use the data of reality to build new worlds.
Nature is not a moral guide or a source of consolation nor happiness, but something destructive, strong, to be respected by men. In his poems the atmosphere is tense (hinting to the Middle Age, a dark period). Coleridge twists reality, showing us it’s underground meaning.
He thinks that a poet can always refer to the past. In fact he loves the Middle Ages and the medieval way to write poems, the Ballade. So he also uses archaic language, (rich in alliteration, repetition and onomatopoeias) and medieval elements such as magic, supernatural, the idea of evil, the presence of darkness everywhere, together with light.
Is a Ballad made up of seven parts. The atmosphere of the whole poem is charged with mystery because of the combination of the supernatural and the commonplace, dream-like elements and realism. It contains many of feature traditionally associated with ballads: combination of dialogue and narration, four-line stanzas, repetition, alliteration and internal rhyme, the theme of travel and wandering and supernatural elements.
This poem has been interpreted in many ways:
1. The description of a dream
2. An allegory of the life of the soul (its passage from crime/sin, through punishment, to redemption)
3. A description of the poetic journey of Romanticism (The Mariner is the poet, possessed by a song that derives from guilt. The guilt is the actually origin of poetry: the regret for a state of lost innocence caused by the Industrial Revolution).
The mariner is “ancient”: full of something very valuable, he has a “meaning”, a story, an experience behind him.
1. Part One: a stranger is on his way to a wedding, when an old, lonely mariner appears from nowhere and stops him. He wants to narrate a story, and the Wedding-Guest is forced to listen, because the Mariner has a strange power: a kind of magnetism through his “glittering eye”, a sort of magic spell that hypnotize the man. He tells a story of a voyage on a ship, which was normal until a day a storm drives them toward the South Pole. An albatross came (a sacred bird according to mariner’s tradition) and follows the ship. It is seen as a good omen, which will drive them out of this bad situation. But for no reason, the Mariner kills the albatross.
2. Part Two: terrible things begin to happen, supernatural and gothic phenomenon which ends to kill all the crew but the Mariner. In fact they had been punished for what he had done. Killing the albatross was crime against: God/Nature, Tradition and Hospitality. But the Marine has to stay alive, because his punishment will be different.
3. Part Three: a phantom ship arrives. On board there are two women: Death and Life-in-Death. They casts lots for the crew’s lives: Life-in-Death wins the Mariner, who begins to realize the consequences of his action
4. Part Four: a sense of increasing solitude and Nature gives no consolation. After seven days, the Mariner blesses the water-snakes. This re-establishes the pact of love with the natural order, broken with the murder of the albatross.
5. Part Five: The Mariner is now allowed to enjoy the gift of prayer again. It rains: a kind of natural baptism, which emphasize the re-birth of the Mariner’s soul. Angelic spirits, moved to pity, enter the dead bodies of the crew and move the ship. Even if there is no wind. But the crime has not yet been totally expiated.
6. Part Six: For some time the Mariner is haunted by the presence of his shipmates (this may symbolize the remorse felt by him through memories and fears). In the distance he sees is native country. A ship is now approaching, a pilot together with a Holy Hermit.
7. Part Seven: The ship is unexpectedly shattered and sinks. The Mariner gets saved by the pilot and, after confessing his sin to the Hermit, can return among men. The punishment of Life-in-Death is not over, and will last lifelong. The mariner has to travel the word and tell his story as a warning: do not offend nature or you will be punished. He has to spread a Message: we have to love what God created and we have to prey to be connected with Him. If we act against Nature for no reason (so committing a crime), we will be punished.
After hearing this story, the Wedding-Guest isn’t in the mood for a party anymore. He has changed, he is confused, deprived of reason. But the day after he will be a wiser man.