Critical Analysis of Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

Essay by dovesnake2College, UndergraduateA, November 2006

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge presents a complex web of themes and symbols within the seemingly simple plot line of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The story of the seafarer with the 'glittering eye' (1.13) and his puzzling tale at sea told to an unwilling listener, the Wedding Guest, unfolds into a multifaceted array of planned sequences, heavy religious undertones, and hints at a biographical account of Coleridge's past. If one reads The Rime of the Ancient Mariner simply as a tale at sea, the poem stands as a remarkable one with its continuous simple rhyme scheme and easy flow of speech. And if one reads deeper into the intricate symbolism, themes and significant subject matter, Coleridge's masterpiece becomes even more brilliant. An examination of the poem on both levels proves Coleridge's genius.

The plot line is told in the third person and is about the Mariner's first person account of his trip at sea.

A narrative effect is accomplished with this choice, and although it takes away from the poetic feel, it gives the poem a more story-like flow. Characters include a protagonist, the Mariner, and a listener, the Wedding Guest, presumed to be the audience. Coleridge introduces his tale by describing the old, gray-headed sailor who approaches three young men headed for a wedding celebration and compels one of them, the groom's next-of-kin, to hear his story. At first the intrusion is resented, but the sailor's story becomes remarkably compelling. The listener falls captive to the building suspense, responding with fear, and later with horror as the tale unfolds.

The Mariner tells of a storm at sea, how he and his crew were blown off course towards the South Pole, and how a good omen, an albatross, came to guide them back to the north. But the good...