The rime of the ancient mariner
There are many legends about the origin of this poem: one says it came from a Coleridge friend’s dream. It’s a ballad, different from Coleridge that writes other kinds of poems. The choice of the ballad is due to a resumption of the Middle Ages, in fact it was a typical medieval form, and originally it was just oral, starred and accompanied with music. Here lots of ballad’s elements are found, such as alliterations, rimes, half rimes, repetitions, everything to give musicality to the composition. He uses it also because he wants a very popular verse. The difference is that now it’s no more oral, but written and it has because of this fact a more codified language. The poem is an exotic setting, which is a Coleridge idea (important to underline this fact, because lots of elements for the poem weren’t directly from Coleridge, but arrived from Wordsworth and his friend’s ideas). The time isn’t defined, it’s a long time ago. All these ideas for the exotic arrived to him through travel books. The exotic is a way to escape from reality, from the new industrial country, it’s a better world because far away in time and space. In the poem there are lots of references to myths and legends, usually from medieval tradition, such as the Macabre Dance, very popular in the Middle Ages. The poem isn’t only made of supernatural elements, because if it was, the reader wouldn’t have been able to join this world and got lost in it, but by the introduction of real and concrete elements, he gives the reader some elements to hold on in order not to get lost in that supernatural world. He gives an idea of a real world under the supernatural one. These elements are the keys to join this poetic world. Despite this great use of the supernatural, there aren’t rational interpretation, but lot’s of allegorical one.
For the composition of for The rime of the ancient mariner Coleridge use medieval legends. He draws upon legends and folklore in three main situations:
- the legend of the wandering Jew: it’s a legend. He was a Jew who joked and insult Jesus Christ while he was going to be crucified and for this reason he was convict to wander about for the eternal without being able to stop and breast. The mariner is the representation of the wandering Jew, because he has to go from land to land without stopping until he finds one who is fit to listen his story (“Since then, at an uncertain hour, That agony returns; And till my ghastly tale is told, This heart within me burns. I pass, like night, from land to land; I have strange power of speech; That moment that his face I see, I know the man that must hear me: To him my tale I teach.”).
- Dance macabre: it’s a well known medieval allegory, very used in literature, but mostly in visual art, where it’s represented as macabre dance of triumph of death. It’s a dance where the death, under the form of a skeleton, invite people from all ages and social classes to join the dance. It means that everyone will die. It’s also ironical because also the powerful people such as kings take part to this dance, they have to die too, as anyone else.
- flying Dutchman: he was a sea captain who challenged God and for his folly all his crew dies. But with the name “Flying Dutchman” we don’t mean the captain, but the ghost ship, which is, following the legend, forced to sail the oceans for the eternal. It’s a 17th century legend. The captain, in a tempestuous night, challenged God to sink his ship and God in return, because of his blasphemy, transformed him and all his crew in ghosts, forcing him to sail on his ship for the eternity.