Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) is one of the leading poets of the Romantic period in England. His poetic works are characterized by natural speech, simple themes, natural beauty, imagination, and emotion. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is no exception. This dramatic poem is written on two distinct levels with an unusual division of three speakers: the narrator, the Mariner, and the Wedding Guest.
The poem is also a story-within-a-story, one being that of the Mariner and the Wedding Guest and the other of the voyage of the Mariner. The tale is introduced by an unnamed narrator who does little more than introduce the poem in a limited third person voice in the first two lines of the opening stanza:
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
"By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?”
The narrator serves two purposes simultaneously. He introduces the poem with the meeting of the Mariner and the Wedding Guest, and he remains an omniscient narrator throughout but only with respect to the thoughts of the Wedding Guest at the beginning and the end of the poem. The main speaker is the Mariner who immediately begins to tell his story following the introduction:
The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot chuse but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.
The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the light-house top.
Thereafter, through the voice of the Mariner, Coleridge remains loyal to the characteristics of Romanticism by descriptions of images from the natural world:
The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.
In part 5 of the poem, Coleridge references two additional voices apparently coming from nature itself. Since the Mariner kills the Albatross, he must pay for his sin because the spirit of nature loves the creature. It is left to the reader to determine whether the voices are supernatural or imaginary in the mind of the Mariner.
Finally, at the end of the story, the Mariner once again addresses the Wedding Guest and leaves him with a moral: The way to connect to God is through the love of nature:
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.
After hearing the words of the Mariner, the Wedding Guest is transformed as all people are when they respect nature, but the tale leaves him in a somber mood:
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.