Samuel Taylor Colleridge’s
It has been suggested that The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner may be read as a religious text, presenting nothing less than ‘the fall of man’. How do you respond to this interpretation? Begin your answer by considering the extract above.
Samuel Taylor Colleridge’s poem, written in 1979 has been widely discussed throughout literary history. Although critics have come up with many different interpretations of the poem, one idea that has remained prevalent is the apparent religious symbolism. The Ancient mariner contains natural, gothic and biblical symbolism, however nature and religion tend to coincide. The apparent existence of religious imagery is in the mariner’s revelation that good will triumph over evil, and his acceptance of all nature as God’s creation.
It may be argued that the extract draws in subliminal aspects of religion. The killing of the Albatross may be seen as an association with the crucifixion of Christ. The reader is told that the polar spirit, “loved the bird that loved the man who shot him with his bow” this internal rhyme highlights that it is evidently doubtful that a man of Colleridge’s Christian background and faith could fail to see here an analogy with God who loved his son who loved the men that killed him.
It is likely that Colleridge, in his reference to the mysterious wind that blows on the mariner, may have been aware of the wind as a biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit. Colleridge appears to be emphasising this image through his use of incremental repetition, and his addition of the exclamatory when the phrase is repeated. Religious aspects are draw into the extract through the simile ‘Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head’ This eye rhyme uses the proper noun ‘God’ as a direct reference to religion. Adjectives in the semantic field of religion are used such as ‘glorious,’ which may suggest religious imagery.
Another example of religious symbolism is that the Albatross is hung around the Mariner’s neck like a crucifix. The ‘cross’ in ‘crossbow’ hints at the murder of Jesus, which logically places the Albatross as a symbol of Christ. The language and form of this part of the poem represents the images and words, which have traditionally described the wrath of God and the guilt of man in Christian terms. It is at this point that the Mariner feels guilty for killing the bird and the death of his shipmates. However, directly after this the Mariner realises the beauty of nature God created in the water snakes. Even though he is must continue his story, he is able to appreciate all of the love of nature, and he is free of God’s punishment.
It may be argued that Colleridge was attempting to write a Romantic version of the fall of man. Instead of falling apart from God as a result of man’s sin and disobedience, it is the falling apart of the mind from unity to disunity, according to Robert Pen Warren.
However, many critics have argued that the poem is adversely anti-Christian, drawing in gothic and supernatural elements. Bruchan argues that if it was to be written as a Christian text, the moral does not fit. A moral that may be drawn from it is to respect nature, but then why is it that 2000 sailors die? The tetrameter of lines 131-134 reveals an alternative belief system; that of ‘invisible inhabitants of this planet’ (gloss). If the poem was to be seen as religious, it may be questioned as to the mercy of God; lines 135-138 tell of the excruciating punishment of the mariners; ‘And every tongue through utter drought.. We could not speak’ Surely if God was virtuous he would not allow this to happen to the sailors.
Other Gothic references lye between lines 185-189, the gloss explains there is the appearance of ‘a spectre-woman and her death mate..on board a skeleton ship.’ Later we find these two characters playing a game of dice for the Mariner’s soul, the internal rhyme in this stanza highlights this; ‘The game is done, I’ve won, I’ve won” A Christian reading would expect only God to control the Mariner’s destiny, but here it is based on a game of chance.
Other pointers to an non-religious reading are the Mariner’s choice of stopping a Wedding guest; ‘The Wedding guest sat on a stone.’ Weddings are seen as a celebration of new life together in God’s eyes, in Christian terms. Through stopping the character attending the Wedding, the Mariner is effectively stopping the spread of the word of God. Surely If Colleridge intended this to be a religious poem there would have been a different turn of events. Similarly to the beginning of the poem, the ending poses an anti-religious stance. In line 625 we are told that the wedding guest ‘Turned away from the bridegroom’s door.’ This is almost an symbol of him walking away from religion when given the choice. Instead of choosing a Christian lifestyle, the Wedding guest appears to be choosing a life of solitude.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has evoked many critical interpretations and stimulated criticism regarding its meaning. It is impossible to fine a single interpretation of the text due to its complexity of language and structure, however we can draw elements of different critical opinion. There appears to be many references to religion in the poem, but there are also supernatural and gothic elements which appear to contradict these theories.
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