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Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Part One

14 Mar

Write about the ways in which Coleridge tells the story in part one of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’.

21 marks

Part One of Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ introduces three key voices – those of the narrator, the eponymous mariner and his listener, the wedding guest. Initially reluctant to engage with the mariner’s tale, the wedding guest progresses from impatience and resistance to fearful fascination at the mariner’s account of a fraught voyage which culminates in the unexpected – and apparently motiveless – killing of an albatross. Through the narrative in Part One, Coleridge raises the Romantic issue of man’s conflicted relationship with his natural surroundings.

The voice of the external narrator is important in characterising both the mariner and the wedding guest. The lexical choices made by the narrator in the opening line offer an early indication that the tale about to be told is both irregular and enigmatic. The object pronoun ‘it’ seems an odd choice which almost dehumanises the mariner and perhaps conveys his unusual appearance and his otherworldly existence. The adjective ‘ancient’ furthers this sense: it is an unusual description for a man, a word more commonly associated with enduring objects rather than mortals. It conceivably anticipates the later revelation that the mariner has been cursed ‘forthwith’ to tell his ‘ghastly tale’, and also anticipates the mariner’s unrequited desire to die a natural death: ‘I saw that curse / and yet I could not die’. Despite the wedding guest’s initial assumption that the mariner is a ‘loon’, the narrator describes the mariner as ‘bright-eyed’ and twice refers to his ‘glittering eye’. The description of the mariner’s appearance characterises him as both intelligent and fully cognisant – not a ‘loon’. This emphasis on the mariner’s mental sharpness is important in a tale as irregular and strange as his is; rather than dismiss it as meaningless and incoherent, the reader is more inclined, like the guest, to take the story seriously and perhaps to seek out its message: ‘the dear God who loveth us / He made and loveth all’.

The external narrator is also key in characterising the wedding guest, in the sense that he relates the guest’s reactions to the mariner as the tale progresses. The wedding guest is initially affronted by the mariner’s intrusion, evident in his direct speech: ‘hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!’ However, very rapidly the wedding guest becomes enthralled by the tale, shown in the simile ‘listens like a three years’ child’ and the statement that ‘he cannot choose but hear’.  By the end of Part One, the wedding guest is actively engaged in the mariner’s narrative, interrupting with emotional outbursts – ‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!’ – and prompting questions: ‘why look’st thou so?’ The wedding guest develops convincingly and quickly from a reluctant, resistant listener to an engrossed and emotionally invested participant in the narrative, and could be said to model Coleridge’s intention for readers of the poem. The nameless wedding guest – arguably an ‘everyman’ character – might be said to represent readers in the general sense and thus his increased enthusiasm for the narrative compels readers to invest in the story themselves and to walk away ‘sadder and […] wiser’ for having received the Romantic moral of the tale.

The imagery employed by Coleridge in the mariner’s tale highlights the inherent conflict of Part One: man’s fraught relationship with the world around him. In his speech, the mariner personifies nature, referring to the sun using the personal pronoun ‘he’ then later characterising the storm as both ‘tyrannous and strong’; this personification suggests that in the poem nature is a character in and of itself. For the mariner, nature is both a benevolent character (conveyed by the positive tone in the line ‘he shone bright’) and an aggressor – something to be feared. A predatory image is created by the mariner in the verbs ‘chased’ and ‘pursued’, which suggest that the natural world is a foe and the mariner felt victimised. This enmity is further emphasised by the use of onomatopoeia. The aural imagery of the storm and the ice-fields is unsettling; verbs such as ‘roared’, ‘growled’ and ‘howled’ are reminiscent of animals’ cries and capture the mariner’s unease and sense of vulnerability when faced with unknown places and adverse weather. This sense of unease and lack of control is essential in making some sort of sense of Part One’s climax – the shooting of the albatross.

In the final stanza, the mariner confesses that ‘with [his] cross-bow / [he] shot the Albatross’. The albatross had previously been characterised as a type of pet who ‘everyday, for food or play / came to the mariners’ hollo’. The bird’s presence had been considered a relief in the mysterious, over-whelming landscape: ‘as if it had been a Christian soul / we hailed it in God’s name.’ The shooting seems motiveless, irrational. This is where Coleridge’s imagery becomes significant. Nature is portrayed as dangerous and the mariner’s figurative speech reveals his defencelessness. In the climax, the killing of the albatross is possibly an attempt by a vulnerable man to redress the balance of control in the natural world. This action sets up the rest of the narrative as a pantheistic redemption tale and the actual telling of the story by the mariner as an act of penance – an act which he has performed many times before (suggested by the tale’s form – a ballad, traditionally used by travelling storytellers).


Year 12 Literature – Romantics documentary project

10 Jun

Hello all,

As you know, we are studying the Romantics at the moment to ready you for next year and now that you have a grasp of some of the basic concepts, we would like you to do some research on a famous Romantic poet (you will be given the options by your teacher). Once you have gathered your research, we would like you to turn it into a documentary which you will film around campus. See if you can seek out the most sublime of places…
Here is some inspiration from different documentaries; which style will you go for? Mrs Sapsford can help you with editing software if you aren’t confident! We’ll see the screenings of these documentaries at the end of next week (w/c 17th June)…

Excitable and bold? Bear Grylls takes on a lobster

Quizzical and slightly bemused? Louis Theroux in San Quentin prison

Musical? Rosa Parks on Horrible Histories