Last Updated on April 27, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551
Kirk. Unnamed church at which the poem opens and closes. This church, as well as other sites to which the Mariner alludes—such as a lighthouse, a hill, and a harbor bay—are evidently located in the Mariner’s native country. (“Kirk” is an old and once commonly used word for church in the British Isles, especially in Scotland.) The Mariner comes to understand his place within the universe as one of many creatures that deserve honor and respect, and the church imputes a moral tone to these ideas. Indeed, the Mariner is not simply a relativist, believing that whatever he wants to do is correct for a particular situation. His killing of the harmless albatross emerges from such an incorrect assessment. The church calls this assumption into question. Consequently, the Mariner is compelled to repeat his story to the Wedding-Guest, whom the Mariner believes to be in need of such a lesson.
Ship. Unnamed vessel on which the Mariner rides the waves of the sea, beginning in the third stanza of part 1. As his ship continues its voyage, the sea itself reflects the mood, the emotional intensity, of the ship’s sailors. The men have nowhere else to go so long as they remain at sea, and their ship thus becomes both home and prison to them. When the wind drops, and the ship is becalmed, the Mariner is reminded how confining the ship is. When the ship is trapped among ice floes, the Mariner allows himself to kill the albatross for sport. The Mariner’s ship becomes the stage for his great sin, as well as for the beginning of his redemption.
Other ships also play important parts in this poem. For example, the skeleton ship approaching from the direction of the westward sky, on a still sea where no wind blows, provides a stage for a dialogue that occurs between Specter-Woman and her Deathmate who cast dice for the lives of the sailors.
South Pole. The southern tip of Earth’s axis is not mentioned by name in the poem, but it is the clear direction in which the Mariner is sent by a storm-blast that drives his ship toward certain judgment in the frigid south. The ice of the southern polar region seems alive, as its movements make noise that sound like wild beasts, frightening the Mariner. The Spirit from the pole embodies these characteristics in the mind of the Mariner, as the Spirit makes the becalmed ship move at the behest of an angelic troupe who still seek vengeance for the albatross.
High seas. Primary location through the poem. Two forms of water trap the ship—ice and water—thereby becoming its primary locus. Sailors learn to read the moods of the sea, based on the winds that propel its waves. The moon, as well, is reflected in the sea’s surface. Coleridge uses the sea, as well as other natural forms, as tools to instruct the Mariner on his moral lapse and lack of respect for all creation. The sun rises and sets several times in the poem, not simply to indicate the passage of time. When the sea gives back the sun’s face in reflection, the Mariner reacts as if all creation were watching and judging him.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 191
There are two settings in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." In the first scene an ancient mariner stops a guest at a wedding party and begins to tell his tale. The mariner's words then transport the reader on a long ocean voyage, returning to the wedding at the end of the poem. The story is probably set in the late medieval period; the town in which the action occurs is never named, although it is likely that Coleridge's audience would have pictured a British seaport, possibly London.
The mariner describes a voyage he takes as a youth from an unnamed European country to the South Pole and back. The initial descriptions of the ship and its crew are fairly realistic, but as the ancient mariner undergoes his quest for understanding and redemption, the supernatural world increasingly engulfs him. His world becomes nightmarish when contrasted with the realistic world that he has left behind. At the same time, in the background, elements from the natural world are always present. For much of the poem, the mariner is adrift in the middle of the ocean, symbolically cut off from all human companionship.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 252
In developing his themes in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Coleridge masterfully expresses concepts through the use of symbols and imagery. Much of the imagery is breathtaking, and the poet's intense descriptions leave a lasting imprint on the reader. This skillful combination of intellectual content and vivid descriptions is not only aesthetically appealing, but also emotionally moving.
When Coleridge and Wordsworth developed the poetic theory that underlies Lyrical Ballads, they decided to use ordinary speech in their verses—what Wordsworth called "the language of real life." Embracing colloquial language was part of Wordsworth's and Coleridge's general break with neoclassical philosophies and traditions, which emphasized logic, structure, and formality. Wordsworth and Coleridge incorporated ballad forms, themes, and characters, and proposed to write poems about simple, natural characters.
In place of an overwhelming emphasis on society—as characterized the poetry of Alexander Pope—Wordsworth and Coleridge wanted to highlight the importance of the individual. They emphasized human emotions, and stressed the concept that imagination and creativity are forces within the individual that respond to the natural world.
A lyric typically is a short poem that expresses the speaker's thoughts and emotions; a ballad is a dramatic narrative, a poem that tells a story. Lyrical Ballads, therefore, was an attempt by Coleridge and Wordsworth to bring together two poetic genres that previously had been seen as mutually exclusive. The two poets were innovative in their attempt to develop a new poetry to encompass the new realities that they perceived in the world about them.
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