Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a poem about a lone sailor who survives a disastrous voyage at sea. Believing himself to be responsible for this tragedy he dooms himself to recount his tale to strangers. The most common interpretation of this poem is the religious view of crime and punishment. Early in the poem the Mariner shoots an albatross a symbol of good luck. Since it is a moral wrong to shoot the albatross, for you are supposed to love “all things both great and small”, the crew eventually was punished. The Mariner’s punishment was to live a “life-in-death” by repenting and telling his story. His shipmates were punished by death for their crime of praising the death of the Albatross. The Albatross is also supposed to represent Jesus and Jesus’s crucifixion when hung around the Mariner’s neck. While there is no denying the religious symbolism I argue that the moral: to love all things great and small is not Coleridge’s the true message. Coleridge was known to have suffered from various mental disorders such as depression. His own depression is reflected in his writing, specifically, in his character the ancient mariner. Coleridge is also a storyteller like the Mariner. They both tell their own stories and we must separate Coleridge’s story from the Mariner’s.
Though, first, we must make try to make sense of the explicitly stated moral:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all. (lines 614-617)
What the Mariner learns from his whole ordeal is that we should love all of God’s creatures. He seeks to spread this message around, but the “crime” does not fit the punishment. The death of an albatross does not warrant the death of a whole crew and the life-long punishment for the Mariner. More importantly, like he did with the water-snakes, the Mariner learns to love everything, but yet strangely enough he was not redeemed. The Mariner felt the need to spread his story because his heart still carries around the burden of guilt.
Instead of focusing on the story and its symbolism it is more important to focus on the act of storytelling. Harry White reminds us, “The subject of the poem, as its title indicates, is not the ancient mariner, but the rime of the mariner” (827). Therefore, there are two people telling stories. We know that Coleridge is telling us a fictional story about a Mariner talking to a Wedding-Guest before the ceremony. Once the Mariner recites his own tale we are actually thrust into his world. In a sense we are the Wedding-Guest hypnotized by the Mariner’s “glittering eye”. We see things from the Mariner’s perspective and believe what he believes. However, can we accept everything the Mariner say to be true? The moral to love all things is also the Mariner’s since he is the one who said it. It is what the Mariner thinks he has done wrong. By shifting the storyteller from Coleridge to the Mariner we are...