Essay on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Essay on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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In an article on sin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge defines sin as “an evil which has its ground or origin in the agent, and not in the compulsion of circumstances.” (65). Coleridge’s definition of sin excludes any outside cause of sin, besides the agent himself. Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem of sin, but it is also a poem that questions etiology. John Livingston Lowes writes “The relentless line of cause and consequence runs likewise, unswerving as the voyage, through the poem”(68). Cause and consequence in the poem, however, should not be taken at face value. Certainly the violent act of the Mariner has consequences, but Coleridge also brings a logical fallacy into light: Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or after this, therefore because of this. Every action that occurs after the Mariner’s assault on the Albatross is not necessarily a result of that act, contrary to what the Mariner and his shipmates believe. Nevertheless, the Mariner must deal with his attack on the albatross, and the guilt that ensues. Coleridge explores the Mariner’s sin, guilt, and isolation in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, while questioning the causality of all three.
In one brief stanza, the Ancient Mariner ruthlessly kills the albatross with no provocation. The gloss that accompanies the fatal blow to the albatross elaborates on the event and says, “The ancient Mariner inhospitably killeth the pious bird of good omen” (432). Coleridge is packing many layers of significance into this one stanza, this one action. The Mariner’s assault on the bird is unwarranted, it rejects hospitality, and it is an attack on the pious, or the religious. The crew cannot explain why the Mariner rejects the bird; they plead to God to save him from the “f...


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... questions are not answered in the poem.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has layer after layer of meaning leading to an abundance of interpretations. The poem itself is further complicated by the glosses that Coleridge provides in the margins. Coleridge gives his readers reason to question etiological readings of this poem, and he may even give readers a reason to doubt his own explanations found in the glosses. However, reading the poem with reservation does not take away from the power of the poem.. The Mariner is striving to understand the religious significance of his assault on the albatross, while dealing with the problems that an assertion of the self can lead to. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a story of a man struggling with sin, guilt, and isolation, and trying to understand if they relate, and if so, how they relate.

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