When Samuel Coleridge set pen to paper, it is clear, he knew his bible well. In his Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christian mythology and symbolism abound. The three main elements of the story, the Mariner, the Albatross, and the Sun, each play a role as Jesus. From the first stanza, Coleridge begins his biblical allusions and, through the Mariner's eyes, paints a vivid picture wrought with the Christian god and angelic hordes as recurring foci.
Coleridge begins his parallels with the setting, a wedding day. One of Christ's most famous miracles, that of turning water to wine, took place at the wedding at Cana, in Galilee. The Ancient Mariner is the quiet guest who performs a miracle of his own in the retelling of his story. He is the Christ figure also in the view of the whole poem, as when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert.
Like Jesus, the Mariner endures many trials, but his failure at the first costs him dearly during those which follow. The initial "temptation" was to kill the good seabird, which he does without conscience. And, like the temptation in the desert, the Mariner is parched with thirst, "Water, water, everywhere,/Nor any drop to drink." And when the Mariner tries to pray for salvation, he hears a demonic voice, like Lucifer: "I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;/But or ever a prayer had gushed,/A wicked whisper came, and made/My heart as dry as dust." [ln 244] As the ghost ship approaches, "I bit my arm, I sucked the blood," in reference to Jesus' use of the wine at the last supper as his own blood. When the spirits move the ship, "Slowly and smoothly went the ship/Moved onward from beneath," the Mariner is, in a sense, walking on water. The ending is the more ironic to consider that the Mariner, as a kind of Christ figure, is rescued by a Pilot, where Jesus died by Pontius Pilate, pronounced in the same way.
Coleridge then makes use of "holy" numbers, such as three and seven, on several occasions. Three is represented in the Holy Trinity: Father Son and Holy Spirit, while the seventh day is the Sabbatical. At the poem's opening, the weeding guest is picked out of three men in the second line, and is shortly mesmerized by the Mariner into "a three years' child." [ln 15] When Death and Life-In-Death play dice-despite Einstein's claim, "God does not play dice with the cosmos"-for the Mariner's life, "'The game is done! I've won! I've won!'/Quoth she, and whistles thrice." [ln196] When the Mariner sails into the harbor with the Seraph, he is picked up by a Pilot and his son, and "I saw a third." And, when his crew is dead and all he has to look forward to is death himself, he recalls, "Seven days and seven nights, I saw that curse,/and yet I could not die." [ln 261] With no pretense, the sun is immediately deified in the Mariner's tale. Each time it is referred to, it is capitalized and personified. "The Sun came up upon the left,/Out of the sea came he!" [ln 25] Even more blatantly, "Nor dim nor red, like God's own head,/The glorious Sun uprist." [ln 97] When Death's ghostly ship arrives, the sun is blocked: "When that strange shape drove suddenly/Betwixt us and the Sun." [ln 175] What stands between a man and his god? Only death, as the passage illustrates. In the following stanza, "And straight the Sun was flecked with bars," the perspective is that of a prisoner looking to the outside world-the sailors are imprisoned, both in life and in the ocean. Death is all that keeps life contained from grace, so the bars across the Sun (god) are fitting symbolism.
A biblical allusion referred to repeatedly is the similarities between the masts of a ship and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. Describing the Sun's-and thus God's-ascent as they near the equator, "Higher and higher every day,/Till over the mast at noon." [ln 30] This imagery paints a vivid picture: from the Mariner's point-of-view on the deck, the sun is a brilliant halo over the mast and its crossbeam. As the ship encounters a storm, the ship bucks and sways: "With sloping masts and dipping prow,/As who pursued with yell and blow/Still treads the shadow of his foe,/ And forward bends his head." The result of the storm is that the masts are not upright, but at an angle, as though they were being carried. Christ bore his own cross before the crucifixion, having stones thrown at him and being yelled at as he followed the Romans, his foes. When the Albatross is shot, the masts become the cross of the crucifixion once more: "The bloody Sun, at noon,/Right up above the mast did stand." [ln 112] This time, the reference to the "bloody" sun, in conjunction with the sun representing the head of god, can be construed as the crown of thorns upon Jesus' head, and his subsequent bleeding. Finally, when the ship once more begins to move, the sun is revealed again, "The Sun, right up above the mast," [ln 383] just as it had been when their journey began. This is parallel to Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.
The Albatross, having a only a short time within the poem, also represents the Christ- figure. As the ship reaches the antarctic region, its journey is endangered by the cold and ice. This serves as the dark time of Humanity, when all mankind was supposedly still suffering for "Original Sin," until Christ came to relieve them of the burden. The Albatross, as Jesus, has a miraculous power, and brings the ship to safety; the Mariner becomes Judas as he slays the good bird: "With my crossbow/I shot the Albatross." [ln 81] Fittingly, the Mariner uses a crossbow to kill the savior-bird. The sailors, at first distressed, change their minds as the weather clears: "'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,/That bring the fog and mist." [ln 101] This is similar to not only the betrayal, but Peter's denial of Christ- coincidentally (or not), "before the cock crows thrice." As punishment for killing the bird, and bringing about their tragic fate, "Instead of the cross, the Albatross/About my neck was hung." [ln 141] The Albatross thus becomes a definite representation of the crucifixion. Perhaps not biblical, but historically intriguing nonetheless, the Roman Empire, responsible for Jesus' death, underwent a tragic collapse shortly thereafter. Inept and mad emperors followed, and the civilization, as it was, fell to pieces, as do the crew members of the Mariner's ship.
Prevalent also in Rime is the usage of color to signify life and death. Green is typically regarded as the color of living things, such as when spring comes after the grays of winter, bringing life and color back into the world. "Her beams bemocked the sultry main,/Like April hoar-frost spread;/But where the ship's huge shadow lay,/The charmed water burnt away/A still and awful red." [ln 268] The Mariner was on a ship of death-a frost in April, casting a shadow which kills, changing colors to red, the color of death. However, even in death, the Mariner finds life: "Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,/They coiled and swam." [ln 279] This is the turning point for the Mariner, as he is once more able to bless and pray. The overall color of the ocean is also a very deep green, "I viewed the ocean green," [ln 443] and the oceans are considered the source of life. Comparatively, death is tiny next to life. The whole of the ocean, life, holds the entire ship and all of the death aboard, and takes away such death in a moment. "The self-same moment I could pray;/And from my neck so free/The Albatross fell off, and sank/Like lead into the sea," [ln 288] and, "It reached the ship, it split the bay;/The ship went down like lead;" [ln 548] in both, the ocean swallows death without pause. In completion of this life-from-death, "It is the moss that wholly hides/The rotted old oak-stump." [ln 521] However, puzzling is the line, "And ice, mast-high, came floating by,/As green as emerald," [ln53] because such a sight is extremely dangerous to a ship. Of course, Coleridge was possibly trying to be more accuracy than allusion, as polar ice does reflect a great deal of green. Red, as was stated above, is the color of death-blood. "All in a hot and copper sky,/The bloody Sun, at noon," [ln 111] is the signal to the sailors that something wicked is in store for them.
Coleridge also throws in more minor references throughout the poem: "Merrily we did drop/Below the kirk," seems to say more than simple direction; it implies that the ship and crew are approaching an area beyond the reach of their god. The reappearance at the end, "Is this the kirk?/Is this mine own countree?" signifies the return of the Mariner to his god's graces. Not mere reference, but actual characters, the seraph-like angels- are elements of biblical history, as guardians and avengers. "This seraph band, each waved his hand:/It was a heavenly sight!/They stood as signals to the land,/Each one a lovely light." [ln 491] These seraph serve as the former, bringing the Mariner home at last, at the bidding of his guardian saint: "Sure my kind saint took pity on me." [ln 286] Lastly, the biblical story of Lot's wife is insinuated with the stanza, "Like one, that on a lonesome road/Doth walk in fear and dread,/And having once turned round walks on,/And turns no more his head;/Because he knows, a frightful fiend/Doth close behind him tread." Evil seems to lurk close behind at all times.
Coleridge, certainly an exceptional writer, would not have been dissatisfied, it seems, to have been a man of the cloth. From Rime of the Ancient Mariner alone, he makes an impression of how a great deal of the world mimics Christian belief. Although not intended to be factual, nor construed as such, Rime is a well developed, character-based morality play.