The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1798, at the start of the Romantics period.
The Romantics is a term applied to the literary movement that took place during the late 18th and 19th Century in Western Europe. Romanticism moved away from an emphasis of the traditional, strict rules of Classicism and the importance of an empirical world view, and looked instead to the imagination and nature as inspiration for poetry.
At its release, the poem was criticised for being obscure, using archaic words, and differing too far from the Romantics. While the poem was originally released in the Lyrical Ballads, it was removed for being too sublime and surreal. The edited 1817 version was published in Coleridge’s collection, Sibylline Leaves.
The poem often sounds like a Lyrical Ballad, because of its descriptive language and stark emotional force, although it’s more ballad than lyric. But in the end, the form of the poem is a Narrative Ballad due to the fact that the Mariner is telling the whole story throughout the poem, an aspect that is pointed out to us twice in the first part of the poem. The whole poem actually consists of four different Narrative voices.
Coleridge takes the form of this poem from old, popular English ballads where the stanzas have four lines, called a quatrain, and a rhyme scheme where the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme. The fact that not every stanza has exactly four lines shows us how Coleridge isn’t willing to sacrifice the meaning of his poem for the form.
We know then that Coleridge isn’t one to stick to the original or expected way of things. Another aspect he included that wasn’t taken very well by a lot of critiques was his use of archaic words.
“”Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?”
“Eftsoons his hand dropt he.”
Coleridge is deliberately writing like the old border ballads; telling a story about adventure and ghostly happenings in a rough and old fashioned language.
You could also take from it that he uses it to lengthen the Mariner’s punishment and make him seem ancient.
But on a large extent, it seems like he is being different just to be different. Although it does add a sophisticated air to the poem which is needed to reduce its obscurity.
He likes to leave the poem open at the end of a part, leaving it on a cliff-hanger of sorts.
“’Why look’st thou so?’—‘With my cross-bow
I shot the albatross.’
By structuring it like this, Coleridge encourages you to move onto the next part. It forms loads of questions inside your head. Why did he shoot the albatross? Why is it even important? Etc. It lays foundations so that anything could happen.
He also bases the story outside a wedding. This is significant because firstly, the religious input, and secondly the wedding sounds like a lot of fun - singing, dancing, and drinking. But it’s all heard from behind closed doors. Because of this it emphasises how the Mariner’s tale is one not to be taken lightly and also how the Mariner is split and can never be a part of a community or party of any kind.
Moving on to the language of the poem; in the very first stanza, Coleridge introduces the character of the Ancient Mariner through one rather interesting description.