What is the relationship between the natural and the supernatural in Samuel Taylor Coleridges' contributions to the Lyrical Ballads?
The original _Lyrical Ballads_(1798), a joint poetic project by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, contained many poems by the former but only four by the latter. The relationship between the natural and the supernatural is an important theme in a number of poems in that volume. This theme is a particularly important, however, in Coleridge’s lengthy Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Links between the natural and supernatural begin appearing in the Rime almost as soon as nature is mentioned. In line 25, for instance, the rising sun is personified, as if already nature is being treated as more than merely natural. The “storm-blast” in line 41 is similarly personified, and even the noises of the cracking ice are made to sound supernatural (61), as if the ice is somehow alive. Finally, when the famous albatross appears, it is treated by the men “As if it had been a Christian soul” (65).
The shock, of course, is that the mariner kills the albatross, and when he does, the effects seem increasingly supernatural. The winds stop, and among the other crew members,
. . . all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow. (92-94)
The ship enters a seascape that seems more and more haunted and horrific:
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white. (127-30)
In Part 3 of the poem, supernatural imagery becomes especially intense, but here the link with nature is less strongly emphasized than previously, although references to the sun sometimes have supernatural overtones. Toward the end of Part 3, however, references to nature once again become more prominent, but most memorable are the supernatural references, such as the description of the souls of the dead, which go whizzing by as if they were arrows shot from a cross-bow.
References to nature become more prominent again with the descriptions of the moon beginning around line 263, where once again a natural object is personified and treated as if it were supernatural. Likewise, light is later described as if it were alive (313-17), although immediately thereafter the moon and wind and weather are described in ways that sound less obviously supernatural (318-26). These alternating passages are typical, in their shiftings back and forth between the natural and supernatural, of much of the phrasing of the poem as a whole.
In general, however, the poem leaves a strong impression that the natural can suddenly seem supernatural at any moment – that the boundaries between the two realms are highly permeable and flexible. Ultimately, though, the terrifying links between the natural and supernatural that dominate much of the poem give way to a gentler, far more consoling vision of the connection between the two:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all. (614-17)