Symbolism In “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”

1778 words - 7 pages

In 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge published his poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Several editions followed this, the most notable being the 1815 version, which included a gloss. This poem has grown to become well known and debated, especially concerning the message that Coleridge was attempting to impart. The interpretation of the poem as a whole and of various characters, settings, and objects has been the subject of numerous essays, papers, books, and lectures. There are approximately four things that are major symbols in this work, along with the possibility that the structure itself is symbolic.
In order to best determine what these things symbolize in “The Rime”, one must look at what Coleridge considered a symbol to be and then analyze the text accordingly. James McKusick accomplishes this first task deftly, intertwining Coleridge’s own writings into his essay and then elucidating upon them so that the reader may understand Coleridge’s views, which should then influence how the poem is interpreted. In this, own discovers that Coleridge felt that to be a symbol, the object in question must be humble and of everyday life, while “bear[ing] witness to the presence of the Eternal.” The process of creating a symbol was two-fold in that “poetic images emerge fully formed from the … imagination, but they do not become symbols, laden with … meaning, until they are appropriated and reconstituted by the awareness of a reader” (McKusick 223). Thus, the purpose of a symbol was to convey the Eternal. One other important feature of Coleridge is that in creating a symbol, he often uses nature and its elements, as can be seen in “The Rime” (Bostetter 242, Perkins 433). Depending on the interpretation of the poem as whole will further impact how the individual symbols are viewed.
The title character of the mariner is befittingly the first character introduced in “The Rime”. Four varying viewpoints exist concerning what or who the mariner represents, the first being the superficial idea that he is simply the wise old man who imparts wisdom to the younger generations (Williams 1116). Going beyond the literal connotation, the most common and supported argument it that the mariner represents the Christian sinner. The diction chosen by Coleridge often alludes to Christianity, examples include “Christian soul”, ”God’s name”, “[i]nstead of the cross…about my neck was hung”, and “Dear Lord in Heaven” (Coleridge 1616-1632). Howard Creed believes that the mariner is symbolically a poet, due to the fact that he learns “the great truth about the world they live in” and then attempts to communicate it to others through the art of a story (221). The final possibility is that the mariner represents a mother. Repeated connection to conventionally female things like the sea, motherhood, spontaneity/irrationality, and nature begins to support this conclusion. The role of instructing the young, in this case the wedding guest whom “listens like a...

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