Symbols and Symbolism in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Symbols and Symbolism in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Length: 2465 words (7 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓

Symbols in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


A close reading of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner will reveal that the Ancient Mariner-who is at once himself, Coleridge and all humanity-having sinned, both incurs punishment and seeks redemption; or, in other words, becomes anxiously aware of his relation to the God of Law (as symbolized by the Sun), and in his sub-consciousness earnestly entreats the forgiveness of the God of Love (represented by the Moon-symbol).


... For Professor Lowes, while he has disclosed a Coleridge of amazing intellectual grasp ... stops short on the border line of purely imaginative experience. In his long study of The Ancient Mariner, he seems to miss the essential allegory.... when all is said, his unsparable book is content to be a review of Coleridge's intellectual and creative relation to his available sources in books, in conversations and in his life history, not (save on occasion as supplying a casual argument) to articulate part with part in the poetic intention as a whole ....


... There is nowhere here or elsewhere in the book [The Road to Xanadu] a hint of the history behind the Mariner's glittering eye, a suggestion of the poet's bold transfer of the glitter in the dead seamen's eyes (Death) to those of the Mariner (Life-in-Death). The poet introduces the Mariner abruptly and repetitively as one with a glittering eye. A similar emphasis is given to the epithet bright-eyed (as in the penultimate stanza of Part VII); and when the fearful question, "Why look'st thou so?", is asked, our thoughts revert to that sinister glitter. Now consider this stanza in Part III:


One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,

Too quick for groan or sigh,

Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,

And cursed me with his eye,

and these stanzas also from Part IV:

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,

Nor rot nor reek did they:

The look with which they looked on me

Had never passed away.

An orphan's curse would drag to hell

A spirit from on high;

But ohl more horrible than that

Is a curse in a dead man's eye!

Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,

And yet I could not die;

and these again from Part VI:

All stood together on the deck,

For a charnel-dungeon fitter:

All fixed on me their stony eyes,

That in the Moon did glitter.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Symbols and Symbolism in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." 22 Nov 2019

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Symbols and Symbolism in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Essay

- Symbols in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner A close reading of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner will reveal that the Ancient Mariner-who is at once himself, Coleridge and all humanity-having sinned, both incurs punishment and seeks redemption; or, in other words, becomes anxiously aware of his relation to the God of Law (as symbolized by the Sun), and in his sub-consciousness earnestly entreats the forgiveness of the God of Love (represented by the Moon-symbol). ... For Professor Lowes, while he has disclosed a Coleridge of amazing intellectual grasp ......   [tags: Rime]

Free Essays
2465 words (7 pages)

Use of Symbolism in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Essay

- Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s use of symbolism in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner lends the work to adults as a complex web of representation, rather than a simple story about a sailor. The author uses the story of a sailor and his adventures to reveal aspects of life. This tale follows the Mariner and his crew as they travel between the equator and the South Pole, and then back to England. Without the symbols, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner would be simply a poem about an old mariner who is telling a story about killing a bird to a guest at a wedding....   [tags: Samuel Taylor Coleridge essays research papers]

Research Papers
1125 words (3.2 pages)

Biblical Symbolism In Rime of the Ancient Mariner Essay

-       Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," written in 1797, has been widely discussed throughout literary history. Although critics have come up with many different interpretations of this poem, one idea that has remained prevalent throughout these discussions is the apparent religious symbolism present throughout this poem. "The Ancient Mariner" contains natural, gothic, and biblical symbolism; however, the religious and natural symbolism, which coincide with one another, play the most important roles in this poem (Piper 43)....   [tags: Samuel Taylor Coleridge]

Free Essays
1015 words (2.9 pages)

Symbolism Of ' The ' Of The Ancient Mariner ' Essay

- Symbolism of the Albatross The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a story that reflects on the life and decisions of the ancient mariner. This ancient mariner has been through a tough situation that makes him feel the need to express himself and tell his story. This old man, while aboard a ship kills an albatross that appears to be helping guide him and his crew out of a storm. The killing of the albatross took his crewmates by surprise because it was sudden and unjustifiable. Everything that happens next to the ancient mariner and his crewmates can be directly explained by his killing of the albatross....   [tags: Albatross, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner]

Research Papers
904 words (2.6 pages)

The Symbolism of the Birds in Edgar Allan Poe´s The Raven and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge´s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

- Feel that guilty conscious giving your gut a strange feeling. This is the way you are told that you have messed, done something wrong. Back in older times there was a different way that people were told that they messed up. “Real guilt needs our permission to exist. It’s sneaky and brilliant and invisible,” according to Liz Jones. But is guilt really invisible. Not in the poem The Rime of Ancient Mariner. The birds in these two poems symbolize two different things. This gets to be the main plot of both poems....   [tags: Evil, Madness]

Research Papers
577 words (1.6 pages)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Essay

- Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a poem about a lone sailor who survives a disastrous voyage at sea. Believing himself to be responsible for this tragedy he dooms himself to recount his tale to strangers. The most common interpretation of this poem is the religious view of crime and punishment. Early in the poem the Mariner shoots an albatross a symbol of good luck. Since it is a moral wrong to shoot the albatross, for you are supposed to love “all things both great and small”, the crew eventually was punished....   [tags: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner]

Research Papers
1434 words (4.1 pages)

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Essay

- In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” religion is prominent and important in the process of the story evolving. These religions elements, specifically Catholicism, work along side the superstitious components of the poem to express both the author’s feelings and also add to the mystery of the plot. By analyzing the Catholic imagery, the blessing of the water snakes, and the superstitious elements of the story, Coleridge’s personal religious preferences emerge, and the religious background of the story is made clear....   [tags: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Albatross]

Research Papers
1909 words (5.5 pages)

The Allegory of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Essay

- The Allegory of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner According to Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, an allegory is described as a fictional literary narrative or artistic expression that conveys a symbolic meaning parallel to but distinct from, and more important than, the literal meaning. This is true in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is an allegory that symbolizes the inherent struggle of humans facing the ideas of sin and redemption....   [tags: Papers]

Research Papers
866 words (2.5 pages)

Essay about The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner

- In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the author uses the story of a sailor and his adventures to reveal aspects of life. This tale follows the Mariner and his crew as they travel between the equator and the south pole, and then back to England. The author's use of symbolism lends the work to adults as a complex web of representation, rather than a children's book about a sailor.First, in the poem, the ship symbolizes the body of man. The ship experiences trials and tribulations just as a real person does....   [tags: essays research papers]

Free Essays
382 words (1.1 pages)

Summary Of ' The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner ' Essay

- Shame On You, Mariner. In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge, there is a Mariner who kills an almighty Albatross. It just so happens to be that the creature is extraordinary. It symbolizes all of Nature and everything that comes with its glory. However, the Mariner did not think of his actions, and shot the bird killing it without motive. The events that happened thereafter, were unthinkable. The Mariner would remain the rest of the story tortured continuously causing guilt....   [tags: Samuel Taylor Coleridge]

Research Papers
1106 words (3.2 pages)

Related Searches

The pang, the curse, with which they died,

Had never passed away:

I could not draw my eyes from theirs

Nor turn them up to pray.


All that Professor Lowes says about the glittering eye is true, but it inadequately vindicates Coleridge's unerring choice of the adjective as expressing that uncanny communication of quality between the dead and the quick.


But to return to my thesis-that the Sun (with the Polar Spirit and the First Voice) is conceived in Coleridge's imagination as suggesting the stern, just, masculine, punitive side of the nature of God; and that the Moon (with the Hermit and the Second Voice) normally symbolizes the gentle, feminine, redemptive side. The whole ballad presents a tale of sin and salvation, of crime and compassion, of the operation of inflexible Law and the intervention of inexhaustible Love.


The passages quoted above from Coleridge's own works, considered cumulatively, seem to reinforce this interpretation of the symbols we are considering. In the poem itself it will be noticed that there are eleven references to the Sun and fourteen to the Moon, and that these are the chief recurrent symbols. In the first edition there are ten references to the Sun and fifteen to the Moon. The total number of references to Sun and Moon in the editions of 1798 and 1817 is, however, the same-namely, twenty-five. None of these appears in Part VII in either version, and this, as we shall see, for a reason.


In the pictures of the Sun he appears first as the ship drives southward across the Equator-the Sun coming up upon the left, shining bright, and setting on the right. "The vertical sun," as Professor Lowes explains, "stands over the mast for an instant at noon, to mark the crossing of the Line." After the vessel rounds Cape Horn the positions of sunrise and sunset are reversed. Both passages are temporal and positional in content, Saxon and almost monosyllabic in diction. God is present and omnipresent.


The third reference is more significant. After the wanton slaughter of the Albatross,

Nor dim nor red, like God's own head,

The glorious Sun uprist.

The majesty of the Divine slowly and steadily reveals itself until the Sun has climbed to the meridian. Then there appears one of the most impressively symbolic stanzas in the poem:

All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody Sun, at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the Moon.

The avenging process has begun; the ship is suddenly becalmed; the Polar Spirit plagues the sailors; the dead Albatross is hung about the Mariner's neck; weary and menacing days dawn and die; the crew are suffering from drought and fear; when at last the phantom vessel is descried:

Seel Seel (I cried) she tacks no more!

Hither to work us weal,-

Without a breeze, without a tide,

She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all aflame,

The day was well nigh done!

Almost upon the western wave

Rested the broad bright sun;

When that strange shape drove suddenly

Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,

(Heaven's Mother send us grace!)

As if through a dungeon-grate he peered

With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)

How fast she nears and nears!

Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,

Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the Sun

Did peer, as through a grate?

And is that Woman all her crew?

Is that a Death? and are there two?

Is Death that woman's mate?


Guilt and Fear have interposed themselves between God and the sinful Mariner and his mates, who find themselves now wholly in the power of Death and of Life-in-Death. The crew become the prey of Death, while the Mariner falls to the lot of Life-in-Death. She whistles thrice, and a that sinister signal the sense of the Divine presence is wholly lost:


The Sun's rim dips; the stars rush out:

At one stride comes the dark;

With far-heard whisper o'er the sea,

Off shot the spectre-bark.


One after one, under "the star-dogged Moon" (distorted symbol, for the moment, of an alienated Love), the sailors perish, and the Mariner is abandoned to the horror of utter separation from his Creator. By his own act he has become a castaway. No saint takes pity on his soul in agony. Like Claudius and Macbeth, he seeks to pray and fails to pray. Divorced altogether from hope or help, for seven days and seven nights he watches the curse in the dead men's eyes, and yet, like the Wandering Jew, he himself cannot die. As he declares to the Wedding- Guest in Part VII:


O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been

Alone on a wide, wide sea:

So, lonely 'twas, that God himself

Scarce seemed there to be.


All is foul and fixed, as though for ever. Suddenly in this static horror pair something moves,-the only moving, hope-renewing object w t n that wilderness of sea and sky. It is the normal, familiar Moon -symbol, as we have seen, of the inexhaustible loving-kindness of God. No contrast could be greater than that between the misery of the Mariner in his ominous surroundings and gentle rising of the friendly Moon. Rossetti was always eloquent in his praise of the first stanza of Part V:


Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,

Beloved from pole to pole!

To Mary Queen the praise be given!

She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,

That slid into my soul.

But it is hard to find in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner more beautiful lines than the following, especially as related to their context:

The moving Moon went up the sky,

And nowhere did abide:

Softly she was going up,

And a star or two beside-

Note the word softly and note its reappearance when the poet describes the Second Voice:

The other was a softer voice,

As soft as honey-dew:

But tell me, tell me! speak again,

Thy soft response renewing-

The moonbeams, says Coleridge,

... bemocked the sultry main,

Like April hoar-frost spread!

But where the ship's huge shadow lay,

The charmed water burnt alway

A still and awful red.


That is, all is now bathed in moonlight save the shadow of the ship. The Mariner looks beyond the shadow, and for the first time sees from the Point of view of the God of Love those sea- creatures whom he had previously despised and condemned as "a thousand slimy things." Beheld in this moonlight aspect, they reveal unsuspected grace and charm:


O happy living things no tongue

Their beauty might declare:

A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware;

Sure my kind saint took pity on me,

And I blessed them unaware.


Seen thus from the higher point of view, the Mariner sees them thus thereafter, even within the shadow of the ship. "The spell," says the gloss, "begins to break."


Corresponding to the transfiguration of the water-snakes comes soon afterwards, in Part V, another change. The souls of the Mariner's companions "that fled in pain" are replaced by "a troop of spirits blest." The sounds of their singing are sustained with an exquisite sweetness, and they renew that sweetness by darting to their source in the Sun. But there is another spirit who does not sing. "The lonesome Spirit from the south-pole," says the gloss, "carries on the ship as far as the Line, in obedience to the angelic troop, but still requireth vengeance." The Polar Spirit and the Sun are at one in this, for, as the poet immediately declares:


The Sun, right up above the mast,

Had fixed her to the ocean:

But in a minute she 'gan stir,

With a short uneasy motion-

Backwards and forwards half her length

With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse let go,

She made a sudden bound:

It flung the blood into my head,

And I fell down in a swound.

How long in that same fit I lay,

I have not to declare;

But ere my living life returned,

I heard, and in my soul discerned,

Two voices in the air.


The two voices, let it be repeated, simply vary the symbols of Law and of Love, of Retribution and of Redemption. The First Voice relates the story of the crime, and knows full kinship and stern sympathy with the wrongs of the Polar Spirit. The Second Voice pleads gently that the Mariner


hath penance done,

And penance more will do.

The Second Voice also reveals the power of the prime corresponding symbol, the Moon:

Still as a slave before his lord,

The ocean hath no blast;

His great bright eye most silently

Up to the Moon is cast-

If he may know which way to go;

For she guides him smooth or grim.

See, brother, seel how graciously

She looketh down on him.


The voices fade away; the Mariner awakens; the Moon is high; the dead men stand on deck with that eerie punitive glitter in their eyes, the spell of which the Mariner, even when redeemed, can never wholly forget. But for the moment the spell is snapped, and the Mariner views the ocean, no longer as slimy, or rotting, or painted, but as fresh and clear and green. "The curse," says the gloss, "is finally expiated." The two motives of Retribution and Redemption are drawing together and a great wind bears the ship towards her haven.


It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek

Like a meadow-gale of spring

Dread expresses itself in the next line:

It mingled strangely with my fears,

and hope in the fourth line:

Yet it felt like a welcoming.

The almost magical manner in which the poet combines these opposing motives here and in the next stanza deserves especial attention. Dread appears in

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,

and hope in the reappearance of the familiar reassuring word softly

Yet she sailed softly too.

Hope is augmented in the line:

Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze-

But lingering dread lifts itself again in the melancholy reflection:

On me alone it blew.


The Mariner prays (for he has learned long since to pray) that his incredible homecoming may not be as the vision of a dream. "He beholdeth," says the gloss, "his native country." And he loves it as never before, not only for the welcoming that its familiar landmarks offer his heart, but also because the Moon still accompanies him, steeping in calm and silentness the bay, the rock, the kirk, the steady weathercock. He had not heeded the white moonshine that glimmered through night and fog when he slew the Albatross; but now he knows the meaning of the Moon-the eternal Love of God-and he turns to the Hermit for confession and absolution. Confession made, he is duly shriven, but, says Coleridge in the gloss, with penetrating intention: " - Th penance of life falls on him. And ever and anon throughout his future life an agony constraineth him to travel from land to land. And to teach by his own example love and reverence to all things that God made and loveth.


It should be added, in conclusion, that the resolved dualism of Part VII does not require the final presence of either Sun or Moon, since both of the Divine functions which these two respectively rep. resent have been harmonized as necessary and interdependent. This persistent dualism, monastically resolved, is of the very bones and blood of the ballad as a whole. The major symbols, Sun and Moon, First Voice and Second Voice, Polar Spirit and Hermit, and the chief supporting symbols (not considered here)-the unselected Wedding Guests and the one of three, the Albatross and the skylark, the ship and the home country, the corpses and the seraphs, and the reluctantly listening Wedding-Guest of Part I as against the sadder and wiser man of Part VII who "turned from the bridegroom's door"-these constitute an imaginative harmony, a parabolic wholeness that we dare not ignore, for the poet does for all humanity what the Mariner does for the Wedding- Guest. He speaks to the idealist in each of us, and makes us poets too.

Return to