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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1. It has been said that "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is about twice as long as it needs to be. What would be the effect of reducing the poem's length? Specifically what passages might you delete, and why?

2. Symbols are important in this poem. Traditionally, snakes have represented both good (as on the symbol for the medical profession, where they represent healing powers) and evil (as with the serpent in the Garden of Eden). After checking at the library for other examples of the symbolic use of snakes, explain why you think Coleridge involved a water snake in the poem's climax.

3. In literature and folklore the human eye is typically considered a mirror of the soul. Discuss Coleridge's use of this tradition, examining each of the incidents in which eyes are mentioned in the poem (including lines 3, 12, 139, 144, 215, 228, 251, 255, 260, 332, 416, 436, 440, 485, 560, 567, and 618).

4. In terms of the poem's theme, compare "The very deep did rot: O Christ!/ That ever this should be!/ Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs/ Upon the slimy sea" (11. 123-126) with "O happy living things! no tongue/ Their beauty might declare" (11. 282-283). Consider the concept of the appreciation of life and the fact that "a spring of love gushed" from the mariner's heart as he blessed the snakes "unaware." He had killed the albatross in a thoughtless moment; why is it important that he bless the snakes unthinkingly?

5. Discuss Coleridge's use of imagery in this poem, citing examples to verify your points.

6. Discuss the use of Christian elements in this poem.

7. How does Coleridge incorporate supernatural elements in the poem? What is the function of these elements? How do the supernatural elements relate to the natural elements?

8. Do you think that Coleridge successfully used simple, colloquial language in this poem? In your commentary be sure to consider the impact of the ballad form and rhyme scheme on the narrative style.

9. Read the statements of purpose in Wordsworth's preface to Lyrical Ballads and in chapter 14 of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria. Determine how well "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" meets the poets' intended goals and utilizes their stated methods of expression.

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