illustration of the Ancient Mariner in the ocean with an albatross tied around his neck

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Discussion Topic

Literary devices and narrative techniques in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"

Summary:

"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" employs various literary devices and narrative techniques, including imagery, symbolism, and alliteration. Coleridge uses vivid imagery to create a sense of the supernatural, while the albatross symbolizes both guilt and redemption. The poem's structure includes a frame narrative, enhancing its storytelling aspect, and the use of repetition and rhyme adds to its lyrical quality.

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What literary devices does the poet use in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

There are a number of beautiful similes and metaphors in "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and Coleridge also uses the devices of symbolism and personification

Here is a list of some similes (line number follows each):

"red as a rose is she" (34)

"as who pursued with yell and blow/ Still treads the shadow of his foe" (46-47)

"as green as emerald" (54)

"like noises in a swound" (62)

"as if it had been a Christian soul" (65)

"like God's own head" (97)

"as idle as a painted ship/ upon a painted ocean" 117-118)

"like a witch's oils" (129)

"like restless gossameres" (184)

"as through a grate" (186)

"as white as leprosy" (192) 

"fear at my heart, as at a cup, / my life-blood seemed to sip" (204)

"like the whizz of my cross-bow" (223)

"as is the ribbed sea-sand" (227)

"as dry as dust" (247)

"like April hoar-frost spread" (268)

"like lifeless tools" (339)

"like a pawing horse let go" (389)

"clear as glass" (472)

"like music on my heart" (499)

"like one that hath been seven days drowned / My body lay afloat" (552)

"like night" (586)

"like one that hath been stunned" (622)

Finally, this entire stanza is a simile:

"Like one, that on a lonesome road/ Doth walk in fear and dread, / And having once turned round walks on, / And turns no more his head; / Because he knows, a frightful fiend / Doth close behind him tread." (446)

Metaphors are not as frequent, but here is one powerful example: "An orphan's curse would drag to hell / A spirit from on high; / But oh! more horrible than that / Is the curse in a dead man's eye!" (257) This compares an orphan's curse to the curse of a man who has died with his eyes open and cursing someone.

Here is a metaphor/simile comparing the sails of the Mariner's ship when he returns to harbor to fallen leaves: "I never saw aught like to them, / Unless perchance it were / Brown skeletons of leaves that lag / My forest-brook along." (533)

A couple of the above similes are also personification. The sun peering through a dungeon grate and fear sipping the life-bud from his heart give human characteristics to the sun and to fear.

Besides the powerful symbol of the albatross representing guilt, there are at least two other important symbols. The "slimy things" referred to in a couple different places represent the Mariner's lack of appreciation of nature--the very sin that made him shoot the albatross. The "water-snakes," on the other hand, show the beauty of nature. When the Mariner loves and blesses the water-snakes, he loses his guilt (the albatross falls into the sea) and he is able to pray again. The water-snakes represent the redemption found in loving "all things both great and small." 

Coleridge use a plethora of poetic and literary devices in his poem, adding to the beauty and depth of its language and sentiment.

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What literary devices does the poet use in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

Coleridge uses all four of these literary devices in his long poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Simile:

Her skin was white as leprosy, the nightmare Life-in-Death was she.

In this line the poet is comparing the appearance of the supernatural female character known as Life-in-Death to a debilitating disease, leprosy. This emphasizes the idea of death and the feeling of impending doom for the mariner.

Metaphor:

Near the end, the mariner has been saved, but the pilot’s boy initially believes he is dead. When the mariner suddenly begins to row the boat, the boy says:

Ha, ha . . . full plain I see, the Devil knows how to row.

This is a metaphor because the poet, using the boy, is comparing the mariner to the devil. Of course, this is completely dependent on the boy’s perception. We realize that the mariner is just a man.

Personification:

And hark the little vesper bell,

Which biddeth me to prayer!

The poet is personifying the bell, portraying it as something that willfully calls people to come and pray. In reality it is just a ringing sound that people know as a signal.

Symbol:

The albatross itself is the most famous and well-known symbol from this poem. The mariner pointlessly murdered the beneficent albatross early in the story. Later, the crew members hang the dead bird about his neck as a symbol of his guilt. People often make references to this in real life when they are suffering from guilt or a burden of some kind, saying something like “This is my albatross.”

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What literary devices does the poet use in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

Coleridge uses all of the above repeatedly in the poem.  One example is the personification of the sun's behavior as the sailors all become incapacitated with thirst:

"As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face."

The sun appears to stare at them as though to taunt them as though it is aware of their situation.

There are numerous Christian symbols in the poem, as the sailor deals with sin and then redemption through suffering and pain.

Coleridge also uses metaphor throughout the poem, one memorable one is when he uses the supposed look in an eye to stand in for a curse:

Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye. (lines 215-216)

There are also a number of similes including the following:

[E]very soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my crossbow! (lines 223-224)

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What narrative techniques are used in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses several narrative techniques. The first technique readers are likely to notice is the frame story Coleridge employs as the mariner stops a wedding guest and begins to tell his story. The mariner is compelled to tell his story as penance for his sin of killing the albatross, and he is relieved temporarily of his all-consuming guilt by relating his story to others.

In addition, the mariner’s story is told in chronological order, which is typical of narrative. The mariner’s story also contains vivid description, a technique often found in narrative writing, particularly in the stanzas that follow the killing of the albatross. The story itself contains dramatic tension, and later resolution, as depicted in the archetypal dramatic arc. The mariner’s story, for example, reaches its climax when the mariner shoots the albatross with his crossbow. From this action, the narrative moves to its ultimate resolution with the mariner’s compulsion to repeat his tale. Finally, the mariner’s story contains a moral, which the mariner reveals to the wedding guest at the ballad’s end. The mariner has learned that his sin separates him from God and that even animal life is sacred.

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What narrative techniques are used in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

One narrative technique in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is the use of a frame story. The poem begins with the narrator's story of how the mariner stops some wedding guests and bends their ear. Then, the mariner starts telling his story-within-a-story about his long and strange voyage. At the end of the poem, the narrator returns to speaking about the wedding guest. The mariner tells his tale as a flashback, which is another type of narrative technique in which someone retells events that happened previously.

In addition, the poem features poetic justice, another narrative technique in which evil actions are met with retribution. After the mariner kills the albatross, his ship eventually encounters horrid heat and all the men on board are killed, save the mariner himself. Therefore, his action is punished as his fortunes go from good to bad. 

The poem also contains the narrative technique of foreshadowing. When the strange boat nears the mariner's ship, the mariner believes he sees death on board the ship. Then, strange occurrences take place in nature:

"The hornèd Moon, with one bright star/ Within the nether tip./ One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,/ Too quick for groan or sigh,/ Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,/ And cursed me with his eye."

The sighting of the strange ship and the strange look of the moon and star foreshadow the death of everyone on board the boat. Only the mariner survives. 

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What narrative techniques are used in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

Several narrative techniques are employed. First, the poem is a frame tale. It begins with the old mariner stopping three guests on their way to a wedding. To one of these wedding guests, the old mariner tells his fantastic story. The poem concludes with the mariner finishing his conversation with the wedding guest. Therefore, the mariner's encounter with the wedding guest frames the main story of the voyage.

By beginning the story with the frame, the story then employs flashback, taking the reader back to the time of the voyage itself. The events are then related in chronological order.

An unusual technique, perhaps, is a dramatic technique. The mariner's telling the story is structured as a dramatic monolog, but from time to time, the narrator interrupts, thus returning the reader to the setting of the frame. The reader in this sense is watching a dramatic scene in which one "actor" tells a story to another "actor." In his poem, Coleridge gives the reader two separate stories. The mariner's effect on the wedding guest emphasizes the compelling nature of the mariner himself, as well as the story he has lived to tell.

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