The Allegory of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
According to Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, an allegory is described as a fictional literary narrative or artistic expression that conveys a symbolic meaning parallel to but distinct from, and more important than, the literal meaning. This is true in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is an allegory that symbolizes the inherent struggle of humans facing the ideas of sin and redemption. In writing this poem, Coleridge spent four months of sustained writing upon his purpose of supposing that supernatural situations are real. This purpose is seen clearly in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", which demonstrates salvation, and the power of sympathetic imagination. The story of the ancient mariner takes place on a sea voyage around the horn of Africa and through the Pacific Ocean to England, which Coleridge uses to symbolize the pass into the spirit world of guilt, retribution, and rebirth.
In discussing the symbolism of guilt in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", it is important to understand that in the eyes of the Romantics God was one with Nature. Because of this belief a sin against Nature was seen as a sin against God. In line 82 of the poem, the Mariner simply says, "I shot the Albatross." In saying this, the reader often questions why the bird was shot. There is no explanation. The Albatross was shot without reason or motive very much like the sin of humans. Here the poem begins to take on its allegorical purpose in which the Albatross symbolizes not only sin, but possibly Jesus as well. In Christianity, Jesus died upon the cross for the sins of humanity. He was punished in order for humankind to be forgiven. Like Jesus, the Albatross died not for its own sins, but rather for the sins of humans--the sin of the Mariner.
In order for the Mariner to be forgiven of this sin he must first admit his guilt. In lines 91 through 96 he does so by saying,
"And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!"
It is this admission of guilt that allows the process of forgiveness for the Mariner to begin. It also allows the Albatross to become a reminder of the Mariner's sin, a representation of Christ's suffering, and a symbol of the Christian cross. In lines 40 and 41 it says, "Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung."
The next symbolic theme in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is that of retribution. In lines 143-146 Coleridge illustrates a time of draught for the sailors on the voyage. Without any water to drink they are suffering. This symbolizes the spiritual draught that humans face in Christianity. Without the love for Christ humans are thirsting for spiritual enlightenment and forgiveness--without which they...