A Gothic Ballad: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by S.T.Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772 – 1834)

Historical and literary background

George III of Hannover reigned over Britain from 1760 to 1820. From 1811 his son George exercised the function of Prince Regent because of the king’s permanent insanity.

It was a period of great changes. England underwent a radical change that transformed its economy from basically agricultural to mainly industrial. This happened thanks to the technical inventions in the mining and textile fields and to the increased demand of goods due to the growth of the population.

The American colonies, under the guide of George Washington, started a fight against the British troops In 1776, July 4 the Declaration of Independence was issued in Philadelphia and the British had to recognised the independence of the thirteen ex British colonies with the treaty of Versailles.

After the end of the French Revolution (1793), the British army was engaged in the fight against Napoleon Bonaparte till 1815, when the French emperor was defeated in the battle of Waterloo.
The poets mirrored the new revolutionary ideas and shifted their focus from reason to emotions and imaginations, to the individual, basing their form on more popular, musical patterns and their language on common words for a larger public. They stressed the importance of Nature and of the past, refuge and escape from the modern world and the mass-society

Life and Works

Samuel Taylor was born in at Ottery St, Mary, in Devonshire in 1772 and studied in London and then in Cambridge which he left without a degree because of his revolutionary ideas. After spending a few months in a regiment of dragoons, he formed with his friend Southey and a few others, a scheme of migrating to America and founding there a Pantisocracy, a republic where all properties should be held in common. The dream, of course, was never realised. Coleridge soon afterwards met William Wordsworth (1770 –1850). With him he formed the Lake School of Poetry in the Lake District and published the Lyrical Ballads in 1798, now considered the manifesto of English Romanticism.

Coleridge was a poet, the poet of the supernatural, a great thinker, a philosopher and a critic and formed magnificent schemes in poetry philosophy and criticism that never carried out In his later years, spent in London, he, unfortunately, became a slave of opium.
He died at Highgate, near London, in 1834.

The Rime of the Ancient mariner (1798)

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a ballad that falls into 7 sections , each of them is a new stage in the process The 1st section tells of the mariner’s crime: he kills an albatross without any reason (symbol of the crimes perpetuated against humanity and ordered system)

In the 2nd section the mariners begins to suffer punishment for what he has done. This ship has ceased to move, the mariners are thirsty The 3rd section describes the phantom ship that decides his doom. Life-in-Death and Death play dices: Life-in-Death wins the mariner’s life, the rest of the crew dies. The Albatross is tied around the Mariner’s neck like a cross. The 4th section witnesses a turn: the mariner blesses the water-snakes, so beginning to re-establish relations with the world of affections. The 5th section continues the process of the soul’s revival: the ship begins to move, the celestial spirits stand by the bodies of the dead men. In the 6th section the process of healing seems to be impeded. The mariner is haunted by the presence of his dead comrades “Like one on a lonesome road…”, this is the symbol of remorse.

At last, in the final section , the guilty soul has been restored to be accepted among living men , but, at times memory of what he has done is so insistent that he must speak of it.

When the ship, symbol of community, has completed its a journey of self-consciousness, sinks: it has passed through adventures too unearthly for it to have a place in the world of common things.

Coleridge said that to understand this poem it is necessary “a willing suspension of disbelief” .

Truth needs imagination and imagination is identified with poetry. So the Mariner can be seen as the symbol of the poet and the Albatross as the inspiration to poetry.