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Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is an example early Romantic writing. Of the characteristics of Romantic writing, this poem has most of them, including the supernatural and a reverence for nature.
Because the Mariner has unthinking killed the albatross (a large sea bird), his judgment is harsh as he watches his shipmates die and almost dies himself. It is only when he begins to feel an appreciation for the sea creatures in the water that he is redeemed. However, the rest of his life must be spent in penance, which comes to him in an unusual manner—one that is impossible to ignore.
When the Hermit (the holy man) questions the Mariner (who is pulled out of the water nearly dead) about who he is:
Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched / With a woeful agony, / Which forced me to begin my tale; / And then it left me free. (lines 578-581)
This, then, is the Mariner's penance. As he acts with the Wedding Guest he meets, when the Mariner meets someone who needs to hear his tale—in essence, to take his responsibility to nature seriously—the Mariner must tell his tale.
Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.
I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach. (lines 582-590)
The Mariner no longer sails, but moves from one place to another to tell his prophetic tale, revealing the Romantic writers' concern for nature (seen also in the work of other Romantic writers: Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Keats, etc.). When the Mariner sees the face of the one that must hear his message, his heart burns—he is in emotional and physical pain. Only when he finishes his tale does the pain receded. In this, too, we see the hand of the supernatural.
The Mariner's final words to the Wedding Guest summarize the seaman's message:
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
The Mariner is saying that prayer and love go hand in hand, but extend not just to man, but to nature: "bird and beast." And the task that the Mariner carries out seems to have had the desired effect. The tale closes with the change that has come over the Wedding Guest, as he carries the new responsibility of caring for the world in a way he had not known before:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.
The Wedding Guest is sadder but wiser as he (like the Mariner) wakes the next day with new purpose in life.
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