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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What are examples of personification and paradoxical imagery in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

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Some examples of personification in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" are the albatross, death, and the sun. A famous paradoxical image is "water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

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Personification is assigning human attributes to an animal or non-human object. Death, for example, is personified as a woman below:

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.
'The game is done! I've won! I've won!'
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Mariner calls her life-in death, but in fact, she is death, for she takes 200 lives ("Four times fifty living men"). She is described as looking like a living woman, though with very white skin, and she uses the triumphal language of a person who has won a game of chance.

The albatross is also personified, as it is described with human imagery:

As if it had been a Christian soul

The sun is also personified, described as "he" rather than "it" in the following:

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
The above imagery positions the sun as something of a person rising out of the sea.

A paradox is a statement that seem self-contradictory or absurd. Imagery is description that uses any of the five senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. The most famous paradoxical image in the poem is "water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

It is also paradoxical to call the personified death above "life-in-death" and to describe her as both red-lipped and yellow haired and white like leprosy. This suggests, paradoxically, that it is the red and yellow sun bringing death, a seeming contradiction as we usually associate sun with life-giving force.

The corpses, paradoxically, don't decompose or smell bad: "Nor rot nor reek did they." (This foreshadows that they are not really dead.)

The personification reinforces the idea that all of nature is alive with a divine life force and should be treated with respect. The paradoxical imagery underscores the supernatural strangeness of the Mariner's experience.

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In Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the speaker employs personification when describing the actions of the sun and moon. For example, at the start of Part II, the sun is described as rising to the right of the speaker's point of view, out of the sea, and hiding in the mist. The act of hiding is a human behavior, not a celestial one, and the speaker also refers to the sun with the personal pronoun of "he."

In Part IV, the speaker treats the moon similarly, but using the personal pronoun of "she" while describing the moon rising over the sea "softly," which implies that the moon, like a person, has a choice to rise in a manner other than the one described here.

Paradoxical imagery is observable in the poem at the end of Part I, when the speaker discusses the appearance of the moonlight:

Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.

Fog is a natural phenomenon that typically obscures objects and places in a dangerously opaque way, but in this context, the fog operates as a translucent screen; the moonlight glimmers through the moisture of the fog, suggesting that the power of light is actually stronger than darkness, literally and figuratively.

In Part IV, the speaker describes himself as completely alone, surrounded by the lifeless, soulless bodies of his crew, but then he mentions that "a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on; and so did I," suggesting that he is not alone after all. The truth of this paradox is interesting, however, as the speaker feels spiritually and emotionally alone, a feeling perhaps enhanced by all the slimy things he sees in the seas.

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Three examples of personification in the poem are when the poet personifies the wind, the sun, and fear. Line 41 refers to the "storm-blast" as "he," and calls him "tyrannous and strong." Lines 179 - 180 describe the sun behind the ghost ship like a face peering through a "dungeon-grate" and also call it "he." In lines 204 - 205, the poet personifies fear, saying that it sipped at the mariner's heart "as at a cup." 

Paradoxical imagery is five-senses description that seems contradictory at first but actually makes sense when considered more deeply. One such description is "water, water, every where nor any drop to drink." This seems silly until one considers that the ocean is salt water and therefore not potable. The following line states, "The very deep did rot." Water cannot actually rot, and deep ocean water cannot decompose. But the speaker means that the sea was covered with slime, and the slime was being consumed by bacteria and other organisms. The speaker goes on to say, "Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs upon the slimy sea." This description seems impossible at first, for walking or crawling on water is not normal, but given the slime and the tiny creatures the poet is talking about, the description is accurate. Many descriptions of the ghost ship and the "ghastly crew" are paradoxical because the narrator is describing supernatural characters and events. Thus when the ghost ship sails to them "without a breeze, without a tide," it seems paradoxical, because sailing requires a breeze or tide to make the boat move. The female character on the ghost ship is the "Night-mare Life-in-Death," which is also a paradox, but when the reader understands that the mariner's sentence is to remain alive in the midst of death, it makes sense. That dead men can retain a curse in their eyes, can fail to decompose after seven days, and that they "all uprose" are states that contradict being dead, but the supernatural work of the spirits explains them. When the little seraph-men leave the dead men's corpses, they make no sound, but "the silence sank like music on my heart." Here the speaker provides another paradox, comparing silence to music, two mutually exclusive auditory experiences. 

Using literary devices including personification and paradoxical imagery, Coleridge weaves a gripping supernatural tale in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

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There is lots of Personification throughout.  Most of it has to do with the sun.  The sun takes on human qualities and develops a pronoun of "he."

"The sun came up upon the left, Out of the see came he! And he shone bright, and on the right Went down into the see."

Then an example of a paradox could be when they are surrounded with water, yet cannot drink a drop.  They are dying of thirst, yet cannot drink the salt water.

"Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink."

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What are some examples of symbolism in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the albatross is a good omen for sailors and sometimes even represented the soul of a lost sailor. So, to kill the albatross is to bring bad luck. Hung on the mariner's neck, the albatross becomes a symbol of his thoughtless crime. The mariner doesn't seem to have any malice when he killed the albatross. However, he must deal with the consequences of his action. His penance is to continue to travel, presumably forever, to different lands to retell his tale. He is doomed to an eternity of warning others to avoid his mistakes.

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. (584-590)

This is why Life-in-Death won the dice game. Had Death won, the mariner would have died. Instead, the mariner is subject to a kind of life in death, traveling forever in order to tell his tale.

Keep in mind the epigraph, from Thomas Burnet, which begins, "I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe." He goes on to say, "Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, narrow itself and sink wholly into trivial thoughts." That invisible, better world is the idealistic or spiritual world beyond human perception. Thus, the symbols in the mariner's story could reflect spiritual as well as physical meanings.

The voyage is symbolic of the mariner's life: his path to sin and his subsequent repentance.

As the ship turns around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, the mariner and his crew head north towards the Sun rising in the east (on their right). The Sun is a symbol of God and this image is veiled by the foreboding fog which is indicative of an evil presence eclipsing the goodness of the Sun. (The Sun also becomes a symbol of, perhaps God's, punishment as it contributes to the drought.

The glorious Sun uprist:

Then all averred, I had killed the bird

That brought the fog and mist. (98-100)

The ship becomes like a prison. Stuck in the middle of the ocean with no drinking water, it is another punishment.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink. (119-122)

The ghost ship, which Death and Life-in-Death arrive in, is simply symbolic of retribution, death, evil, and punishment.

The crew of the mariner's ship might be compared to the wedding party. The former is associated with the killing of an innocent life (albatross) and the latter is associated with a celebration of life.

"Rime" is a frost coating of ice. In poetry, ice can be symbolic of death. In this poem, the rime (ice) is similar to the foreboding fog and the lifelessness of the South Pole. It is symbolizes the mariner's sin or crime and his upcoming punishment; note the similarity of the words: (c)rime. So, the rime is the crime and the invisible (spiritual or demonic) elements manifested via fog and ice. The rime is also the mariner's story (his penance of having to retell his story), the "rhyme"/poem itself.

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