Places: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1798

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Allegory

Time of work: Late medieval period

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedKirk

Kirk. Rime of the Ancient Mariner, TheUnnamed 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

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

*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

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.

Sources for Further StudyBarfield, Owen. What Coleridge Thought. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1971. Focuses on Coleridge’s theological and philosophical thought, including his self-proclaimed “passion for Christianity.”Bloom, Harold, ed. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Introduction places the poem in the tradition of Cain and Wandering Jew stories, and essays include studies of the poem’s sources and symbolism.Boulanger, James D., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. A useful collection of scholarly articles dealing with the poem, including an introduction that attempts to reconcile some of the differences of critical opinion.Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. The Annotated Ancient Mariner. Edited by Martin Gardner. Illustrated by Gustave Doré. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1967. Includes the last and the first versions of the poem, together with interpretive comments of varying utility. Doré’s illustrations (and those by other artists) remind readers how intensely visual the poem is.Falke, Cassandra. “The Sin of the Ancient Mariner.” Lamar Journal of the Humanities 29, no. 1 (Spring, 2004): 5-11. Argues that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner can be fully appreciated only within the context of Coleridge’s Christianity, particularly his understanding and use of the concepts of Original Sin and the Cain story.House, Humphry. Coleridge: The Clark Lectures, 1951-52. London: Hart-Davis, 1953. This book of fewer than 170 pages maintains its reputation as a sound introduction to the poet and his works. A thirty-page chapter on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is sensible and straightforward.Lowes, John Livingston. The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination. Rev. ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1931. In this classic work of literary scholarship, Lowes attempts to illuminate The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by a seemingly exhaustive examination of the poet’s reading, which was wide. Captivating as the source hunt is, Lowes tells readers little about what the poem might actually mean.McFarland, Thomas. Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969. Wide-ranging assessment of Coleridge’s coherence of thought, including his literary, theological, and philosophical ideas.Newlyn, Lucy, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Coleridge. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Contains commissioned essays by modern critics reassessing Coleridge’s poetry and other writing as well as his philosophical and theological ideas.Piper, H. W. The Active Universe: Pantheism and the Concept of Imagination in the English Romantic Poets. London: Athlone Press, 1962. Proposes the influence of various scientific and philosophical ideas upon Coleridge, with several chapters on the poet’s intellectual development and one devoted entirely to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Categories: Places