Explain Coleridge's presentation of the relationship between man, the supernatural, and the natural world in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." ...

Explain Coleridge's presentation of the relationship between man, the supernatural, and the natural world in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."



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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," although men attempt to act as free agents, they are at the mercy of both natural and supernatural forces. The men in the tale begin their voyage cheerfully, although the purpose of their journey is not clear. Still, they sail under their own volition. Soon, however, a "tyrannous" wind blows them into frozen waters. The men, even though stuck in the ice, find pleasure in the albatross and befriend it of their own free will. However, the mariner, for no good reason, kills the bird. The men's reaction to his act shows that the men base their emotions and beliefs on the state of the natural world. When the breeze stops blowing, they blame the mariner for killing the albatross, "the bird that made the breeze to blow." But when the fog clears, they change their minds and say that it was right to kill the bird "that brings the fog and mist." Thus they allow their moral choices to hinge on the vagaries of the weather. 

At line 131 the supernatural realm is introduced; the ship being stuck in the doldrums is attributed to "the spirit that plagued us so." In Part 3 the ghost ship appears; the men instinctively know that they will be at the mercy of the unearthly duo aboard the ship. To make their dominance clear, Life-in-Death shouts as they cast dice: "The game is done! I've won! I've won!" Thus the spirit world is shown as a realm that plays games with the lives of men. Indeed, "four times fifty living men" drop down dead as a result of this "win." 

Only the mariner lives on. He is able to exercise some glimmer of free will at last, but even that is more instinctive and completely intertwined with the supernatural world and nature. As he watches the beautiful water snakes,

"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."  

The spirit world, in the form of the mariner's "kind saint," influences the mariner to "choose" to bless the snakes rather than curse them, even though that blessing is subconscious, and he is then freed to pray--and the albatross falls from his neck, indicating his redemption. His journey home is still controlled by spirits as the dead men rise to sail the ship and the voice of the Polar Spirit and his fellow demons discuss the penance the mariner must pay. The Pilot and his son are moved to a fit and madness, respectively, indicating they have no free will regarding their response to the mariner. Only the Hermit seems able to withstand any negative effect from the mariner, but he is a "holy man," so he no doubt has spiritual protection. The mariner himself must live on under the direction of the supernatural "agony" that seizes him when he finds the person who needs to hear his tale, such as the "Wedding-Guest."

Thus Coleridge's poem presents man as fully subservient to both nature and, more importantly, the supernatural realm.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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