The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Symbolism
In this essay, I will be examining some of the symbols in Samuel Taylor Coleridges poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”Symbols were very important in this poem.Without the symbols, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” would be simply a poem about an old mariner who is telling a story about killing a bird to a guest at a wedding.Of course, anyone who reads the poem can see that there is more to it than just a simple telling of a story.
The first symbol in the poem is the wedding that the guest and the Mariner are at.This is a highly significant detail, because Coleridge could have made the story telling take place at any setting, but he chose a wedding.Why?A wedding is a very religious, very happy occasion.Weddings in and of themselves symbolize new beginnings and happiness.The reason that Coleridge decided to have this horrid tale told at a wedding could be for any number of reasons.I feel that the setting was chosen because of the new beginnings implied.As the Mariner tells his tale, the guest is held captive and when the story is done, the guest becomes essentially a new man and goes off to live the rest of his life.Had the tale taken place at a funeral, the heavy feeling of ending would have destroyed the symbolism of new beginnings.Ending of life, of happiness, of everything.If this had happened, then the fact that he rose the next day would not have been as significant. Therefore, the wedding is a very important symbol throughout the poem.
The albatross is another significant symbol throughout the poem.It first appears in the first section of the poem, and it is a symbol of good omen for the sailors.The albatross is a white bird, which is probably the reason why many Christians of the time saw it as a holy symbol, which made it a good omen.In this poem, the albatross symbolizes good fortune.When the Mariner kills the albatross, for absolutely no reason, the good fortune that has come upon the ship leaves.Symbolically, the Mariner did not kill a simple seabird, but an omen of good fortune and luck, which is why all of the bad things happen to the sailors and the Mariner.The albatross goes from being a symbol of god fortune to one of guilt when it is hung around the Mariners neck as a sign of what he has done.
“Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.”
This macabre symbol of the Mariners guilt stays around his neck, a morbid weight around his neck until he can pray.This fact is a symbol of religion for the Mariner.The guilt of wronging one of Gods creatures hangs around the Mariners neck, making weary and unable to pray.The Mariner views the sea snakes as “slimy things upon the slimy sea.” (ln. 125-26)Only when the Mariner realizes the beauty of Gods creatures and what he has done does the weight of the albatross and his guilt fall away.At this time, the Mariner is able to pray.The albatross is a symbol used throughout the poem, though it is only mentioned by name during the beginning part of the poem.
In Part 3, after the albatross was hung around the neck of the Mariner, the good fortune has left the ship, and all of the sailors are starving and dehydrated.The Mariner, starving and dehydrated also, notices a shape in the distance, and realizes that it is a ship.Now, the Mariner and the sailors are so dehydrated that they cannot speak, so the Mariner bites his arm and sucks the blood in order to call out to his fellows.
“I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! A sail!”
This is very significant in that the Mariner is drinking not water to slake his thirst, but blood.The blood is his own life, his essence, and he takes it into himself in order to herald the coming ship.Now, this symbol of the Mariner taking his own life and essence into himself to announce the ship is an ironic symbol. ….. As the Mariner is the only one who sees it at first, he is the only person that must take a part of himself to give the knowledge to the others.The irony comes in the fact that the ship carries not rescuers, but Death, and Life-In-Death.
The sections pertaining to Death and Life-In-Death are very symbolic.The ship that they arrive in is nothing but a “naked hulk,” (ln.195) with the skeleton of the ship showing through.This is symbolic of death itself.As death decomposes, so the ship that it arrives in is decomposed.The two, Death and Life-In-Death play a game for the lives of the people on the ship, which is symbolic of the gamble that the Mariner took when he shot the albatross.The Mariner took a gamble with his religion, and now the pair is taking a gamble for his life.Life-In-Death ultimately wins over Death in the game, and the Mariners shipmates die at his feet, yet he lives on.
The penance that the mariner serves is symbolic in itself.He must go to see a Hermit, for this Hermit is the only person who can grant the penance for the Mariner.The Hermit takes the Mariner onto a skiff, which they take across a lake to a ship.This ship is the ship that the Mariner came in on, though he does not know it.As they near the ship, it takes in water, and eventually, the bay is split by something underneath the water, and the ship sinks.This is the beginning of the Mariners penance in that the ship was the place that the evil of killing the albatross came to be.When this disappears, so does some of the guilt that is on the Mariner.But his penance is to last for the rest of the Mariners life.As the Hermit talks to him, the Mariner feels a burning compulsion to tell his tale to some person that needs the lesson in his life.To this man, the Mariner has a valuable lesson to be learned from his mistakes.
“I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach”
For his penance, the Mariner must relive the agony of his tale, wandering from place to place until he finds the person to tell.This is symbolic of guilt.In guilt, people replay events in their head until they can resolve them, and be free of the guilt that they carry.And this is the penance that the Marnier must go through to free his soul.
The poem at the end goes back to the Wedding and the captive guest at which it started.This is symbolic of the circling of life and the cycles of guilt.The guest walks away, stunned by what hes heard, and the Mariner goes on, as he always has, to tell his tale to someone else who needs the lesson of love and reverence to all of Gods creatures.The Mariner goes off, again to search for another person thirsty for the lesson, and the cycle begins again.
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a highly significant poem that is very dependent on symbolism.The symbols of the wedding, the albatross, the blood that the Mariner sucks in order to announce the ship, the game between Death and Life-In-Death, the penance that the Mariner serves, and the cyclic nature of the poem are only a few of the symbols that add meaning and depth to the poem.If it were not for the symbols, the poem would simply be the story of a Mariner telling his tale to a hypnotized wedding guest, and then the poem would have no meaning to anyone.As it is, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a poem with great depth and meaning, with a lesson that can applyto everyone.When reading this poem, the reader can feel much like the wedding guest, entranced and hypnotized.This is because of the symbols.Even if the reader of the poem does not consciously perceive the symbols in the verse, the subconscious mind will catch them and understand the intrinsic meaning.The symbols in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are therefore the part of the poem that makes it so intense.