“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a poem of crime and punishment.
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a poem of guilt and redemption, discuss.
The Rime of Ancient Mariner is one of the most famous three poems of S. T. Coleridge. The poem was planned by Wordsworth and Coleridge on the afternoon of the 20th November, 1797, when they were walking in the Quantocks. Among the great poems of Coleridge, it is the only complete one. It was founded on a dream of Coleridge’s friend Cruikshank, who fancied he saw a skeleton ship, with figures in it. Wordsworth soon dissociated himself from its composition and finished it on 23 March, 1798.The poem is written in modified form of ballad stanza and is memorable for its skilful unity, vivid phrases and ‘shadows of imagination’ made real. A simple tale of crime and punishment, it embodies the central thought that the real prayer f God consists in the love of God’s creation.
The Ancient Mariner is a simple allegory of guilt and regeneration. Beginning with the commission of guilt, each part tells of a new stage in the process towards regeneration and concludes with whatever redemption is possible in this case.
The sins start from the Mariner shoots the Albatross. He has committed a hellish thing that shows perversity of will, or lack of understanding of the purpose behind the world’s creation or lack of appreciation on the Mariner’s part of the worth of God’s creation. The bird is hailed in God’s name ‘as if it had been a christian soul’. It is friendly with the Mariners. It is accepted as a welcome guest. Then almost suddenly, but most wantonly and recklessly, it is killed. This killing is not something trivial; it signifies the violation of the sanctified relations of the host and the guest. It is a symbolic representation of ‘the essential frivolity of many crimes against humanity and the ordered system of the world’.
First the Mariners’ shipmates become accomplices in the crime. They condemn the Mariner for having killed the bird of good omen, but when the fog clears off and a glorious sun shines in the sky, they approve of his action:
Twas right, said they, such bird to slay.
That bring the fog and mist.
It means that they judge of an action not by an absolute standard of right and wrong but by an arbitrary criterion of its utility to themselves. Suddenly the ship is becalmed. Bloody sun stands right up above the mast and shines scorchingly, in a hot and copper sky. The ocean begins to rot. At night, death fires dance and water burns green, blue and white, like a witch’s oil. The tongue of the mariners’ withered at the root because f utter drought. In an effort to throw the entire guilt on the ancient mariner, they hang the deed Albatross round his neck.
With the appearance on the scene of the phantom ship with its ghastly crew, Death and life-in-death, the forces of retribution are set into motion. The Mariners’ condition is metaphorically suggested when he feels that as the ship comes closer to them. Life -in death play at the dice. The mariner is won by life-in-death while sailors asleep forever. He only survives for his guilt being more serious.
Since Mariner has committed a sin against God’s creation as well as God, he is alienated both of them-
Alone, alone, all all alone
Alone in a wide wide sea!
And never a Saint took pity on
My soul is agony.
He regrets that so many beautiful men lie dead on the deck while ‘a thousand thousand slimy things’ live on. The climax is reached when for seven days and seven nights, he has to face the curse in the dead man’s eyes but he does not die. Then comes a turn for the better. Under the light of moon, the mariner watches the water-snakes moving in tracks of shining white and feels fascinated with their rich attire. A spring of love gushes from his heart and he blesses them unawares. Immediately he is able to pray and the albatross falls into the sea. This marks partial revival.
From here, the process of regeneration continues. The mariner is able to sleep, and when he gets up long awaited rain brings him comfort and freshness. Now no longer his heart is dry as dust, this feeling of freshness is quite inevitable. There is commotion in the sky and a strong wind begins to blow. The ship begins to move with the roaring sound of the wind though it is not touched by it. If the wind may be taken as a symbol of the onward flow of life, this itself is a sign of partial recovery. A troop of celestial spirits stand by the bodies of the dead men and begin to work on the ropes. They pull at one rope but not even a single word is exchanged between them. The mariner is no longer alone, but the company he has got is still terrifying. Then he hears heavenly music in the air and is comforted by it.
The mariner reaches back his own country. He meets holy hermit, confesses his guilt and is shriven and restored to a place among living men. The memory of hideous act he once committed becomes so insistent at times that he is forced to give utterance to it. This brings him relief. In a way, he is regenerated.