Broadly describe how Samuel Taylor Coleridge beliefs in natural and supernatural elements appear in Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge is what some literary scholars refer to as a first-general Romantic writer. (The other was William Wordsworth, with whom Coleridge collaborated.)

There are generally seven characteristics present in Romantic writing—which may vary depending upon different sources. Of these, two are a respect for nature. The other is a focus on the supernatural. Please note that "super-" means "over" or "beyond," referring here to things outside of the natural realm—in the poem, angels, Death, etc.

In Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the "mariner" (or sailor) tells a story about how his life changed when he went to sea with ship and crew, and killed an albatross (a large sea bird) for no good reason.

“...ancient Mariner...

Why look'st thou so?”—With my cross-bow

I shot the Albatross. (78-81)

From the Romantics' standpoint:

...it is not his killing of the bird that is wrong, but the mariner's—and by extension humankind's—callous and destructive relationship with nature that is in error.

Everyone then experiences extremely bad luck. Blaming the mariner for the becalming of the ship and a lack of water, the other sailors tie the dead bird around the sailor's neck. (When says he has an albatross around his neck, it refers to a great weight, even a punishment.)

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks

Had I from old and young!

Instead of the Cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung. (136-139)

Ultimately, the ship is visited by a "ghost ship" with two supernatural creatures: Death and Life-in-Death.

Is that a DEATH? and are there two?

Is DEATH that woman's mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,

Her locks were yellow as gold:

Her skin was as white as leprosy,

The Night-Mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,

Who thicks man's blood with cold. (185-191)

The two gamble for the lives of the sailors. Life-in-Death wins the life of the mariner, while Death takes the others, including the mariner's nephew.

Four times fifty living men,

(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)

With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,

They dropped down one by one. (213-316)

The mariner is stuck on the boat with two hundred dead men, haunted by what he has done. Then he looks over the side of the ship and notices the beautiful sea creatures:

Beyond the shadow of the ship,

I watched the water-snakes:

They moved in tracks of shining white,

And when they reared, the elfish light

Fell off in hoary flakes. (269-273)

In that moment, he admires, appreciates and blesses the creatures, and his sin against nature is forgiven:

O happy living things! no tongue

Their beauty might declare:

A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware... (279-282)

In that exact moment, the mariner finds he can pray, and the abaltross drops from his neck. The mariner sleeps; when he wakes, it rains—quenching his thirst. Then angels inhabit the bodies of the dead sailors, who rise and begin to sail the ship home. In this way, the mariner is delivered. However, he must do penance, and that is to tell his tale:

Since then, at an uncertain hour,

That agony returns;

And till my ghastly tale is told,

This heart within me burns. (579-582)

The mariner has told his tale now to a Wedding Guest, whose life is changed for hearing it. The mariner's benediction sums up his feelings toward nature:

He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us

He made and loveth all. (611-614)

Here, then, are the elements of the supernatural and nature.

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