The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Meet the Author

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (website)
         Samuel T. Coleridge was born October 21, 1772 in Ottery St. Mary. Coleridge was the youngest of ten children. His father was John Coleridge, a minister, and his mother was Ann Bowden Coleridge. As a child he was bullied often by the second youngest child, Frank. His mother was quite distant, so it's no surprise he ran away at the age of seven. The morning after he ran away he was found by a neighbor, although the events of that one night were short, the nightmares he experienced haunted him for the rest of his life. These nightmares showed as imagery in his poems and frequently reoccurred in a journal he kept. His father died in 1781, when Coleridge was at the age of nine, Coleridge was sent away to a charity school for children of the clergy. During his stay at the charity school, he stayed at his maternal uncle's home. Coleridge was very much a child prodigy, he read books constantly, and eventually progressed to number one student in the class.

         Coleridge's brother Luke died in 1791, his only sister urged him to write one of his first poems “Monody” in which he resembles Thomas Chatterton. Coleridge was very ill by this time and took laudanum for his illness, in turn this started his lifelong addiction to opium. He traveled to Cambridge in 1791, Coleridge was in debt at this time, in spite of some scholarships, because of opium, alcohol, and especially women. He had hoped for poetic fame but by 1793, he owed £150 and was desperate. Coleridge's last option was to sign up with the army.

          Coleridge's family was enraged when they found out that he signed with the army. Under the ridiculous name Silas Tomkyn Comberbache Coleridge escaped being sent to fight in France, because he could barely ride a horse. Coleridge's brother, George, had arranged his discharged by reason of insanity, and they traveled back to Cambridge. In Cambridge he met Robert Southey, they became lifelong friends, because they were both political radicals, they started pantistocracy, their own social-political movement. Robert soon introduced Coleridge to William Wordsworth, it was Coleridge's misfortune that he met Sara Hutchinson through Wordsworth, who eventually married Sara H.'s sister. Coleridge fell in love with Sara immediately, which put an extra strain on an uncertain marriage.

          Coleridge's marriage forced him to try to become responsible, he managed to make £120 a year. His Poems were published 1797 were well received, his path to stardom seemed evident. By this time he had one son David Hartley Coleridge born September 1796, shortly after David was Berkeley Coleridge born May 1798. In 1798 Coleridge published the famous Lyrical Ballads, the collaboration between Coleridge and William sparked the romantic movement, although the authors did not know at the time. Coleridge and William traveled to Germany, courtesy of Williams sister, Dorothy. Tragically while Coleridge was away, Berkeley died from a deadly reaction to smallpox vaccination, hearing this Coleridge took his time, and slowly moved back to Cambridge hoping to avoid his son's death openly, because of this he completed very little work.

          After many illnesses from the damp weather of the Lake Country, Coleridge decided to try his hand in the newspaper business, trying to recover financially. Coleridge was sure that he would pass away soon, and bought life insurance shortly after the birth of his daughter Sara in 1802. In 1804, he left for Malta in hopes of cure for his ailment by weather. In Malta Coleridge spied for his majesty who wanted Malta as a British port, although Coleridge was a temporary Public Secretary. Coleridge hoped for a solution to cleanse him from his opium addiction, but he did not achieve this in his life. In 1806 he asked for legal separation from his wife, Sara was repulsed by the idea, but the split inevitably came. His mood swings and paranoia, brought about even more opium use, in turn he accomplished little work. His friendship with William was all but nonexistent, and he again turned to newspaper for financial problems. His works at this time composed of mostly fiction, except for a few plays, which included Biographia Literaria, a book on nearly everything.

          He desperately wanted to escape his usage of opium, so he moved into an apothecary's house, the house of James Gillman, and asked him to reduce the opium dosage. Unfortunately, like all addicts, he had arranged for an alternate supply to satiate his needs. He completely cut himself off from his family, and they had to take up a collection to send David to school, at one time in his life, he did not visit his children for eight years! His friends from London was drawn to him by his conversational skills, and wanted his companionship. By the time of 1830 the reviews for his works started to become more positive, and he still could not reach financial security, for a government reorganization took away his pension from the Royal Society of Literature, his only reliable source of income. He passed away peacefully on July 25, 1834 at the age of 62, leaving only books and manuscripts in his stead.

Coleridge's motivation for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (originally titled The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) was argued by critics, and many different motivational stories emerged.

One was that Coleridge was influenced by James Cook's second voyage of Exploration. Apparently Coleridge's tutor, William Wales, was on the voyage and very close to Cook. Critics suggest that Coleridge based The Rime of the Ancient Mariner on Cook's lamentation and hardship.

Wordsworth, Coleridge's lifelong friend begs to differ, he says that on a stroll with his sister Dorothy, they were discussing a book Wordsworth was reading titled A Voyage Round The World by Way of the Great South Sea (1726) by Captain George Shelvocke, a story about a man who shot an albatross. Wordsworth asked Coleridge what he thought of the albatross, Coleridge's reply was that of tuletary spirits haunting him for his crimes. As the conversation ended the poem had taken shape.

Bernard Martin also argues saying that the story was based off an Anglican clergy, John Newton who had a near-death experience upon a slave ship.

The poem may have also been inspired by the wandering Jew who was forced to wander the earth as punishment for taunting Christ on the day of crucifixion.

Book Summary:

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The poem is about a mariner who returns from a long sea voyage to tell his tale to a passing groom on his way to a wedding ceremony. The mariner starts his tale with a voyage, starting out with good fortune, but on the way hit by a storm ending up in Antarctica. As all hope is lost an albatross leads them out of the antarctic, but although the albatross only helps guide the ship the mariner shoots it with his crossbow,"with my cross-bow / I shot the albatross" The crew enraged by the mariner's actions soon realized that in doing so brought about clear weather and the mist disperses. The crime arouses when the ship is followed by the wrath of spirits from the land of mist and snow, the south wind that led them out of antarctic, had sent them into uncharted waters. The ship and it's crew suffers from dehydration and starvation, the sailors blame the mariner for their misfortune fish up the albatross, and tie it around his neck, as a sign of guilt. Soon the ship comes across a ghostly vessel, on it is a skeleton and a ghostly pale women, playing dice for the lives of the men. The skeleton, death, wins the lives of the crew's men, and the ghostly pale women, death in life, wins the mariner, which he will suffer a fate worse than that of death. All the crew die one by one, all but the mariner who is forced to suffer for seven days and seven nights, only when he sees the slimy things is the curse lifted. Once the mariner begins to pray the albatross falls of his neck, meaning the guilt is partially forgiven. The corpses of the men, possessed by holy spirits steer the ship back home, when it is destroyed in a whirlpool leaving only the mariner. A nearby hermit saw the ship and went out to greet it, as he did so he found that the mariner appeared dead. Once the mariner opens his mouth the pilot, goes into a fit saying that he is the devil. The hermit begins to pray, and the mariner begins to row, the pilot laughs and thinking that the mariner is the devil scoffs, “the Devil knows how to row”. As punishment for shooting the albatross, the mariner must wander the earth and recite his tale to people, once he feels the need emerges.


          Nature and the Development of the Individual; Religion; Man's Limitations


          The reason I chose these themes is because that the nature from a person at birth is neutral, in a sense. The way the child is raised by their parent's is how the person grows up to be. For instance the mariner had no reason to shoot the albatross, he thought to himself that even though the albatross is leading him out of the storm and back to his homeland, that he should kill it. You never bite the hand that feeds you, the albatross, never harmed him, and yet he shot the albatross. Another theme is religion, the albatross is a symbol for a good Christian soul, and when the mariner prays, the crew's corpses get possessed by good spirits. Back then the bible was the biggest read book, everyone had read it. Also man's limitations, why did the mariner shoot the albatross, sometimes there are things man should not do. If the mariner had not shot the albatross, his ship would have been fine, the mariner was probably trying to test god and his powers.

Word Count: 1662

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Last Updated: 6/2/10 at 8:37 P.M. PST

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