Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Devon in 1772. He went to Cambridge in 1791 but he didn’t get a degree. He was inspired by radical ideas; with his friend Robert Southey he planned to create a “Utopia society” – “Pantisocrasy” – in Pennsylvania. He also met William Wordsworth and with him close a friendship, that culminated with the publication of Lyrical Ballad. He studied German Romanticism during his travel to Germany. On his return, he moved to the Lake District to be near Wordsworth. He fell in love with Sarah Hutchinson, later Wordsworth’s sister in law, and he was forced to leave his wife. Coleridge became addicted to opium because of severe rheumatism. From that moment he was a writer of newspapers, public lecturer, literary critic and philosopher. His most important work is “Biographia Literaria. He died in 1834.
Coleridge belongs to the so-called “first generation Romantics”. He introduced into poetry supernatural or fantastic events, following the Romantic spirit. He was a great critic and a theorizer about Romantic poetry. His masterpiece The Rime of the ancient mariner included in “Lyrical Ballads”, and other unfinished works as Kubla Kha, Christabel and Pains of sleep, belong to his golden period as a poet. These three works express an important way of creating the romantic spirit of wonder. Wordsworth did this by expressing “the charm of novelty of everyday life”; Coleridge, instead, used fantastic characters, described with sufficient “semblance of truth” to encourage a willing suspension of disbelief.
What is the “suspension of disbelief”
Coleridge believed the divine was hidden behind nature. The story of “The Rime” is both full of descriptions about the voyage, and of supernatural elements. The realistic description of details provokes in the reader that willing suspension of disbelief which respond to treat supernatural happenings and make them look real.
The Rime of the ancient mariner
The poem is a literary ballad.
The Rime has a lot of symbolical and literary qualities that make itself different from the traditional ballad:
- The detailed description of the voyage
- The symbolical meaning of the landscape
- The studied use of personification and alliteration
- The length of the story (longer than a traditional ballad)
- The moral at the end
An ancient mariner meets three young men on their way to a wedding feast, and detained one. The guest is unwilling to be detained, he is frightened by the eye of the old man, but he is forced to hear his tale. The mariner tells how the ship sailed southward, with a good wind, until it reached the Line. Here a storm drove it towards the South Pole. The wedding guest hears the bridal music, but the sailor continues his story. Only when an albatross came through the snow-fog, received with the joy and hospitality, the ship was able to break through the ice, and to find its way back to the north. Although they all believed the albatross brought good luck, the ancient mariner shot the pious bird.
The crew blame the mariner for killing the albatross, but the wind continues to blow and clears the fog. Later, the ship is becalmed and haunted by a spirit, and the thirsty crew hang the dead bird round the mariner’s neck as a sign of his guilt.
A skeleton ship appears in the distance. It needs no wind to approach the mariner’s ship. On board the spectres “Death” and “Life in death” cast dice and “Life in Death” wins the mariner’s soul. The other sailor die.
The wedding guest fears that he is talking with a spirit, but the mariner reassures him. He is not a ghost, but his punishment in worse than death. When the Moon rose, the mariner can’t admire the beauty of nature, that appeared to him in the form of water-snakes. By the light of the Moon he beheld God’s creatures of the great calm, their beauty and their happiness. He blessed them unaware in his heart, and the albatross suddenly fell off and sank into the sea. The spell begins to break.
Parts 5 6 7
5)Angelic spirits enter the dead bodies of the crew and “work the ropes”; the ship moves on.
6)The ship returns to his port
7)The Mariner penance begins: he will travel from land to land to tell his tale.
The mariner is gone, and now the wedding guest turns from the bridegroom’s door. He goes like one that has been shocked. The next morning he rises as a sadder but wiser man.