How does Emerson's "The Rhodora" compare to Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?" 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One point of comparison between Emerson's and Colerdige's poems surround the individual's relationship with the natural world.  Both poems explore this in different ways.

In Colerdige's poem, a violation of the relationship between the individual and the natural world has taken place.  When the mariner kills the bird and whe the crew accepts it, Coleridge depicts how the world rises in opposition:  "The very deep did rot - Oh Christ!/That ever this should be./Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs,/Upon the slimy sea."   A bond has been broken, and as a result, human beings suffer.  The crew dies, the mariner himself becomes mistaken for the "devil," and his atonement lies in telling his story to other people.  The end result of his experience, and the poem, is affirming a natural respect for all creatures in the world: "He prayeth best, who loveth best/ All things both great and small;/For the dear God who loveth us,He made and loveth all."  Colerdige concludes that happiness can only be possible when human beings recognize their role as a part of the natural world and do not try to usurp it.

Emerson's poem holds the same conclusion.  However, its path is quite different.  In "The Rhodora," the individual does not try to supplant the natural world.  Rather, he accepts his role as a part of it.  When the speaker comes across the beauty of the Rhodora, he does not dislodge it from the world.  Unlike the Mariner who seeks to control nature, Emerson's speaker simply wants to be a part of it.  He recognizes the flower's natural beauty in "Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,/ To please the desert and the sluggish brook."  In Colerdige's poem, the violation of the covenant between human and nature causes the water to become impure. However, Emerson notes how the dropping of the flower's petals helps to make the water "gay" in literal and symbolic beauty.  Finally, the ending of the poem concludes by stating how ignorant the speaker is of the existence of such aesthetic and deeper levels of appreciation.  In doing so, a submissive role in his attitude towards nature emerges.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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