Why is the water called burnt green ,blue and white, in coleridge's "The rime of ancient mariner"

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coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The description of the sea water in Coleridge's 'The Rime of The Ancient Mariner' is reminiscent of the way oil appears when it is mixed with water. Imagine gasolene or diesel spill marks on roads. There are other references to oil too:

The very deep did rot : O Christ !

That ever this should be !
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

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.

Slimy and witches' oils both refer to oil rather than water. This could be to create an experience of an atmosphere/environment as alien as possible to normality. Because of the nightmarish quality of thirst experiences where delusions are common, Coleridge paints the opposite image to a watery environment - an oily one. The two don't mix. To add to the unreality he adds the sight of creatures being able to do the impossible - walk on water. The whole scene is akin to being in a witches' cauldron as helpless ingredients in some omnipotent evil scheme. Coleridge may have gathered ideas from being in an illusory state himself.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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