The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem that is full of miracles even then its themes make this poem a remarkable piece of literature. Critics are of the view that the extraordinary events in the poem have no concern whatsoever with the outer world as the world sketched in the poem is entirely imaginative. Conversely, some critics love the use of supernaturalism in the poem. S.T. Coleridge portrays such themes that are not very common to portray for a romantic poet. Perhaps, his purpose of writing the poem was to preach morality. He used his imaginative powers to transform a dream into a book. Coleridge’s love for nature forced him to write a poem with full scenery and dramatic elements; hence, he illustrated nature with a subtlety of writing style that give life to this poem in all ages.
It is recommended to read Rime of the Ancient Mariner summary to understand themes of the poem.
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Themes of The Rime of The Ancient Mariner
Like every other romantic poem, The Rime of the Ancient mariner is rich in the depiction of natural images, escapism, illustration of landscapes and rivers imagination with additional features of supernaturalism, spiritualism, morality and Christian allegories as symbols. Some common themes of The Rime of The Ancient Mariner are:
- Sin and repentance
- Sufferings and agonies
- Christian allegories and morality
Lots of supernatural elements in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are there due to which Charles Lamb wrote:
I dislike all the miraculous part in it [poem] but the feeling of a man under the operation of such scenery has dragged me along like Tom Piper’s magic whistle.Charles Lamb
It is the key factor that the poem is full of supernatural elements. Many other poets of Coleridge’s era do not like the exaggeration in the poem. William Wordsworth also criticised the manifestation of events that are beyond the laws of nature despite the fact that he contributed to writing this poem.
All the events of the poem are supported by supernatural elements either directly or indirectly. For instance, S.T. Coleridge writes that the ship moves without favourable winds. On another occasion, he writes that the ship appears and then suddenly disappears. In addition, the two mysterious voices that the poet has illustrated are full of supernatural elements. Similarly, the dice game between life and death and the mariner at stake, fire on the surface of the water and the walking dead prove that the poet uses supernatural elements in the poem.
As a result of the illustration of these elements, the poem does not seem real by any stretch of the imagination; however, S.T. Coleridge mixes the elements of nature with supernaturalism. He creates scenes that do not go entirely beyond the physical world. None of the critics has said that the poet creates a utopian world in the poem; rather, it is the combination of both the natural and supernatural worlds that compels the readers to believe the story that the mariner tells.
Themes of Sin and Repentance in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner
At the start of the poem, a mariner stops one of the three guests and tells him his story. The guest has no other option except to listen to the tale of the mariner very carefully as he has been spiritually hypnotised. The mariner goes on and tells his story of that time when he goes on a ship and meets with terrible and unfavourable winds but soon the weather becomes clear. Everyone on the ship thinks that it is due to the bird “Albatros” that flies over the ship but the Mariner kills the innocent bird with a crossbow.
It is the sin of the ancient mariner due to which he must face penance; therefore, these two become prominent themes of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The mariner kills an innocent bird knowingly that he has not done anything wrong. This act of the ancient mariner marks the beginning of his sorrows. He along with other people on the ship met with a miserable tragedy. The remaining persons are also punished because they did not stop the ancient mariner though the killing of the Albatros was not a good act in their eyes.
It is the time of punishment. Everyone on the ship becomes thirsty and blind. The ship does not move. The mysterious creatures rise and the dead Albatros is attached to the neck of the mariner. There are many incidents that happen; however, long and short of it is that the ancient mariner prays and as a result, the dead Albatros is removed from his neck and he becomes unconscious. Ultimately, he is punished with “telling his story to everyone till death”.
Theme of Penance
In this way, repentance does not seem the appropriate theme of this poem; rather sin and penance are themes that perfectly fit this particular situation in S.T. Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Sufferings and Agonies
The whole poem revolves around the offence that the ancient mariner commits and then the recommended punishment for him. Soon after he kills the innocent Albatros, he realises that a bad time in his life has started. Death is not suffering. The remaining persons on the ship die; however, the ancient mariner remains alive. It is because death is not always called suffering. Initially the mariner was punished physically with thirst and burning sun with high temperature. Secondly, a ship arrives and the mariner considers it help but soon he finds death and life playing gambling while putting the mariner at stack. Ultimately, life wins and the mariner is allowed to live a miserable life.
The real miseries of the ancient mariner start when he is left alive. His punishment is that suddenly, a hidden force would wrench his body with a woeful agony at any time and at any moment of life. He can find relief from that pain in case he tells his story to someone. It is the real agony and suffering for him. Thus, the poem The Rime of The Ancient Mariner elaborates sufferings and agonies as its two major themes.
If the poem is considered a tragedy then pride is the tragic flaw in the character of the ancient mariner. He kills the Albatros but it is not the only sin of the ancient mariner. Real problems start when he does not regret it. Even after killing the bird and knowing that his doom is near, he does not show any sign of repentance. He struggles to survive without God’s help. Perhaps, if he would have shown repentance for his sin, he could have survived himself and his companions from upcoming disasters.
It is not wrong to say that he has a false pride due to which he suffers. In this way, pride is one of the prominent themes of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Themes of Christian allegories and Morality in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner
S.T. Coleridge does not say anything directly. There are some symbols that the critics consider that refer to Christianity. For instance, the incident of killing the Albatros symbolises those people who have killed Jesus despite the fact that He came to save people from disasters. On the ship, there are many sailors besides the ancient mariner, who consider that the Albatross has saved them from disaster just like Jesus has saved the people from upcoming calamities.
In addition, the theme of sin, repentance and penance are basic fundamentals of Christianity. S.T. Coleridge was asked whether he wrote this poem from moral perspective, to which he replied negatively. He was a Christian and he wanted to portray the basic principle of his religion. In his poem The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, he uses Christian allegories and related themes to preach morality.