Birds Of Joy And Of Death

988 words - 4 pages

Symbols are present in every aspect of society today. People use them in language, art and even love. Symbols within stories of the past are some of the most complicated to interpret because of the complexity in which they are made. Poetic symbols are even more difficult, because the writing is harder to understand than an actual story. Poetic symbols can have quite a bit of meaning as well. As Robin Skelton says, “The way in which images are presented to the mind of the poet, and their different kinds and functions, are important matters which we must examine in some detail.” (Skelton). In both stories, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, the symbolic message takes the form of a bird. A comparison of the symbolic meaning of the individual birds is needed to further understand what message the author intended to display within each story.
In both tellings, the birds’ coming signifies a change. In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the albatross comes and suddenly a path opens up in the ice in front of them, conveniently letting them escape from sudden death. Samuel Taylor Coleridge is quoted as saying, "It ate the food it ne'er had eat,/And round and round it flew./The ice did split with a thunder-fit;/The helmsman steered us through!" (Coleridge). On the other hand, in The Raven, it signifies the coming of loneliness and death. The man in The Raven sees the bird as a devil or demon, there only to cause him strife. However, the albatross is the epitome of joy and happiness. The mariner is able to destroy this joy with a simple arrow, which can be compared to what David S. Miall says about Coleridge himself, “It has also been clear to many readers, beginning with Coleridge himself (according to certain hints in his notebooks), that the poem clairvoyantly rehearses predicaments central to Coleridge’s subsequent life – his guilt, his isolation, the loss of love, the experience of opium addiction.” (Miall). The man in The Raven, however, can do nothing about his unwanted visitor.
The birds in both stories also represent, as hinted at before, the coming of death. After the mariner shoots the albatross, death and sorrow come to them all. The other sailors blame the mariner for what has happened to them and so he must carry the mark of shame around with him, the albatross hung around his neck. As R. A. Foakes says of shooting the albatross, “This act has been considered in connection with the multiple sources of the poem; it has been related to the moral outcome of the poem in terms of guilt and expiation or crime and punishment, and it has been interpreted symbolically in several ways.” (Foakes). The raven also signifies the coming of death, in a more persistent way. Instead of the guilt of something hanging around ones neck, it...

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