Coleridge’s Use of Symbolism in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Coleridge deals with the supernatural aspects of life and nature, and to do so, he has made extensive use of symbolism in his poems, and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is one of them.

The greatness of a poet chiefly lies in his use of symbolism and imagery. Romantic poets have used different symbols to convey their attitude to life and nature, for they believe in a transcendental reality, an ideal world beyond the world of reality.

An analysis of Coleridge’s celebrated poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” reveals that he has made the whole poem a symbol of life itself. Through various symbols, the poet has produced two worlds: the conventional everyday world and the mysterious world beyond that which is more accurate.

Coleridge Introduces “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with Dual Personalities

Coleridge has introduced different personalities in the opening lines; the wedding guest symbolizes the conventional everyday world and the mysterious transcendental world. The Sea-Lord Albatross symbolizes some moral values: hospitality and gratitude. It also reflects life itself in the Mariner’s lifeless world.

The killing involving the Mariner’s crime symbolizes man’s violation of moral values. The poet’s deliberate silence about the motive of the crime symbolizes the essential irrationality of the human mind.

Coleridge’s Supernatural Conveys Life’s Unseen Controlling Power

However, the supernatural reveals the most significant symbol of the mystery of life and the unseen powers controlling human destiny. Coleridge has used several supernatural elements which are rationally inexplicable, e.g., the seraph band, the specter ship with the ‘Life in Death’ woman, the unknown spirits following them, etc.

All these happenings suggest the eternal mystery of life, symbolizing the puggling aspects of life that contribute to Coleridge’s transcendental world.

The Poet Uses The Sun And The Moon As Potent Elements

The poem comprises the sun and the moon as potent elements. The sun represents the rational world, which is benevolent at the beginning of the voyage but later becomes malicious after committing the crime. The moon symbolizes the spirituality which remains indifferent to the Mariner’s ordeal’ keeping to her own course throughout the voyage.

The whole dualism of the poem: the sun and the moon, the water and air, the act of killing and that of blessing, the state of solitude and that of ‘goodly company,’ the nightmare and the awakening, the drowning and the resurfacing symbolizes some redemption of reconciliation.

The two voices, whose conversation the Mariner hears subconsciously, symbolizes the spiritual and psychological part of the Mariner’s mind. Since he is not essentially evil-minded, he is conscious of his crime and the need for repentance. His subconscious mind says:

“The man hath penance done/ and penance more will do.”

Mariner, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Coleridge Shows Contrasting Elements in The Poem

Note that Coleridge’s continuous use of contrasts of bright and somber, colors of silence and noise of joy and sorrow of light and darkness, etc., symbolizes his view of light which is a mixture of the opposite. By employing these symbols, the poet has given a new meaning to the archetype pattern of the main fall and his repentance, leading to partial redemption.

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a highly symbolic poem, written in the form of a ballad, dealing with certain psychological states of a sailor, his sun, and redemption. Even so, the wedding ceremony symbolizing the new journey of two united souls subsists a paradox.

However, the Mariner has reached his life’s end when nothing remains for him except the memories of sorrow, sin, and repentance. If the Mariner’s voyage depicts a symbolic life journey, we note that he also started it happily like the newly married couple.

Final Thoughts

The storm at sea drew the ship to the land of mist. Here, ‘mist’ symbolizes Mariner and other sailors’ moral confusion. A few critical reviews interpret the bird as Christ. So, the Mariner’s bird-killing represents the sin of crucifixion, enabling the bird to embrace the death of a martyr; through his act of killing, the Mariner has become a sinner, inviting the inevitable sufferings of life.

Indeed, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is essentially a symbolic poem, and Coleridge’s craftsmanship and dealing with different symbols reveals his poetic genius at its best.

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