, Research Paper
Rime of the Ancient Mariner Nature
Near the end of the eighteenth century began a new ideology and writing style that conveys the poet’s ideas through nature. This revolutionary style began by men like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth were centuries ahead of their time in their attitudes on the environment, communion with nature, and the common man. Drawing heavily upon the French Revolution, these writers broke from society and focused their writing on the common man living in rural settings, a very revolutionary idea for the day. According to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria, “subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents were to be such, as will be found in every village and its vicinity…” (1). Romanticism is anti-social, and in keeping with that theme, they wanted to escape the dominant ideology of the period. Coleridge was a man, unlike Wordsworth, oppressed by society and culture. In his brilliant career, he had many monetary problems and possibly even drug addiction, and for this reason he rebels against his own ideology, Romanticism. In his poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, he does the unthinkable by allowing “Mother Nature” to defeat man. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, embodies the ideals of Romantic poetry with an emphasis on nature, the supernatural, and a conflict between man and nature.
As with all Romantic works, including, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, nature is emphasized throughout and becomes a recurring theme. The albatross is very important in keeping with this theme. His life is senselessly taken by the Ancient Mariner. In the Mariner’s mind the albatross was the cause of all the ship’s misfortunes. The Mariner and his shipmates were bombarded by a powerful storm which “was tyrannous and strong” (”Rime” 2), eventually driving them to the South Pole where they became in lodged in the ice. Blaming this drastic change of events on the albatross, the Ancient Mariner, “with my cross-bow/I shot the albatross” (”Rime” 4). The Mariner’s shipmates cursed him for committing such a “hellish thing.” But after the slaying, the fog cleared and the breeze began to blow. The Mariner’s shipmates then praised him, believing the albatross was the cause of the ship’s troubles on the sea. Soon after this senseless killing, “Mother Nature” avenges the albatross’s death. She pushes the ship off into what seems as an endless ocean, without any water to quench the crew’s parched mouths. In the crews disgust with the Ancient Mariner, they tie the carcass of the dead albatross around his neck to punish him for this awful crime on nature. The crew, then realizes the albatross brought good fortune and luck, which broke the ship away from the ice and back into friendlier waters. Because of the Mariner’s lack of respect for God’s creatures, “Mother Nature” puts a curse on him, forever walking the Earth telling his tale. Nature revolts against man several times, and each time nature claims its dominance over a manly society. The Mariner understands that nature can equate to chaos, so he must respect every move “Mother Nature” makes.
Nature is very important to the Romantics, and in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, God’s creatures are very important in upholding these ideals. To enforce his theme on nature, Samuel Taylor Coleridge integrates the water-snakes into his poem. The water-snakes are an innocent representation of nature and God’s creatures. The Mariner sees the water-snakes out beyond his ship and gazes in amazement at the beauty of nature. In this instance, he blesses the water-snakes and the evil spell which has been cast upon his ship is lifted. The Mariner comes to realize the significance of the sea snakes, that they too, are important to nature.
The ocean, when speaking of nature, is very important to the Mariner. The ocean is a way of life for the Mariner, depending on it for survival. The Mariner does not come to realize the significance of the sea until he is cursed, his way of life completely vanishing from the Earth. Many men, not just the Mariner, depend on nature to provide a living. But ironically, “women are being identified or symbolically associated with nature, as opposed to men, who are identified with culture” (”female to male” 496). Because men are identified with culture, they have a “natural” tendency to not appreciate nature, or as in the case of the Mariner, possibly wanting to dominate it.
The extensive use of the supernatural is Coleridge’s way of conveying to the people how rebellious nature can be. Wordsworth and many other Romantics spoke of a harmonious nature, not so with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge alludes to the supernatural many times, the most notable example is the curse placed on the Mariner. He is forever cursed to roam the Earth, telling his tale to men. The curse is nature’s way of punishing man. A more eerie example of the supernatural is when Death and Nightmare-Life-In-Death cast dice to decide the Mariner’s fate. Nightmare-Life-In-Death is victorious, meaning the Mariner will on live on in this hellish torture brought on by himself. Coleridge, gets men to thinking, that maybe, we do not have as much control over our lives as we think, perhaps nature also plays a major role. The supernatural also comes to the aid of the Mariner. When the ship’s crew die, no one is left to run the ship but the Mariner. The angelic spirits filled the dead bodies of the sailors and navigated the ghostly ship back to the Mariner’s home port. Because Coleridge is oppressed by society and culture, he writes on many subjects in his poems, which are “unnatural” and would not gain the approval of other more natural Romantics, like Wordsworth. Coleridge’s oppression by society leads him to explore the darker side of nature, one that is not harmonious and in tune with man.
The most amazing aspect of the poem is the conflict between man and nature, not because their is a conflict, but because of who is the victor. In Coleridge’s lifetime, women were seen as second class citizens in many ways. When women were the subjects of poetry, they were never seen as a dominant force in society. As stated by Sherry Ortner, a leading feminist, “the secondary status of women in society is one of true universals, a pan cultural fact” (”female to male” 492). Men in the past have been closely regarded to culture and women to nature, possibly because of their nurturing roles in the family. Men are to culture because of their adventurous attitudes, power struggles, and their ability, at least, historically, attempting to dominate nature. In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the Mariner is man and nature is seen as woman. The Mariner is an adventurer, he makes his living by the sea, travelling to uncharted territories. The Mariner never realizes how powerful woman, in this instance nature, can be. Many times throughout the poem, nature comes to man’s aid, either through the supernatural, or something as simple as providing a breeze to power the ship or rain for drinking water. Women, in society, have also come to man’s aid, usually through the family. Females now not only help the family by caring for the children, but also in a more dominating role from her public job. During the Mariner’s voyage, not only did nature sustain life, but it will also retaliate against man, leading him to dangerous places on the sea, almost starving him, and near the end, almost killing him. Nature in this instance wins the power struggle by taming man and showing him who is the dominant power on earth. Throughout history, man has been known to under estimate the power of nature, the most notable example this century, is of course, the sinking of the Titanic, from an iceberg. In this instance, the Ancient Mariner’s under estimation is not fatal, instead, he actually learns from his mistake. The Mariner realizes nature can be chaotic and powerful and for this reason he learns to respect it as the engineers of the Titanic also come to realize.
Gender and culture play a significant role in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Women for many centuries have been identified as “passive, acquiescent, timid, emotional and conventional” (Undergraduate), while men have been “identified as active, dominating, adventurous, rational, and creative (Undergraduate).” Throughout history, man with all its technology has tried to control nature and woman. This desire to control nature has been “linked to the development of science, medicine, and technology” (”Oppressive dichotomies” 510) by man. All these things are attributed to man and culture. The Romantics were not the only ones who kept women as second class citizens in society and literary works. But one man, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, integrated women into “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as the dominant power over man through nature. During the eighteenth century and even into the twentieth, this was very revolutionary. Coleridge’s poem can be seen as a microcasm or a peek into the future for what was to become a reality for women in the twentieth century – a fight for independence and liberation, a voice in government, and an opportunity to influence culture as men do through politics, government, and religion. Although women have made these advances in society, they are still lagging behind in their equality in the military, most notably their combat roles. The Supreme Court in helping women in many other aspects of society to achieve equality, avoids the military question, and for that reason, help will not come from the highest court. To achieve this equality, women must elect officials in government sympathetic to this cause. Although women have achieved many victories toward this issue, they will not be totally equal until this right is granted.
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