“The Rime” Essay, Research Paper
Part 1 (c)
The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, as a product of its culturally inscribed author, presents a confused Unitarian world view consistent with that of the Romantic Movement of its time. It attempts to exemplify this view within an unpredictable and often mysterious universe, and by rebuking the hegemonic ideologies held by the text’s cultural antagonists, seeks to grant the awareness of an often unreasonable world populated by its reader’s passionate persona.
Applying a world-context centred reading to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s, The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, demands the awareness of the Neo-Classical era’s hegemonic position over the newly flourishing Romantic Movement of late eighteenth century Europe. Inherent in this awareness is the philosophical concern in The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, with the issue of Neo-Classic determinism versus Romantic free will. These two philosophical perspectives, unique to their own era, are locked in contention throughout the poem and therefore struggle for dominance; as determined by the reader of the text. A resistant reading of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere explores the concept of determinism, which as an ideology is diametrically opposed to Coleridge’s own beliefs in passionate action and free will; beliefs privileged by the author’s subscription to the Romantic Movement during the text’s construction.
Due to its unique time of construction, The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere itself represents a sense of philosophical uncertainty. Its ideologies, as inspired by a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, are inevitably influenced by the author’s own Neo-Classical background. As a culturally inscribed composer of the text, the idealistically passionate Coleridge is inescapably a construct of his culture, leaving his poem to reside in an uneasy ideological limbo. Such a situation warrants Coleridge the title of visionary, and therefore his poem becomes a vision: a Romantically textual utopia whose realisation was challenged by the rational status quo of its historical origin. Due to this, Coleridge’s work will always seek practical affirmation and will therefore constantly be the source of metaphysically-oriented debate, leaving the dualism that rules it to be decided by the reader and the ideologies he or she brings to the text. This conclusion is supported by the words of John Beer:
“The relationship between the energies of the inquiring mind that an intelligent reader brings to the poem and the poem’s refusal to yield a single comprehensive interpretation enacts vividly the everlasting intercourse between the human mind, with its instinct to organise and harmonise, and the baffling powers of the universe about it.”
Coleridge stated that poetry “gives us most pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood”. He preferred to consider The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere a work of “pure imagination” rather than a textual construction representing a particular cultural ideology. However, his writing of the text as a Romantic poet, espousing all ideologies that the Romantic Movement represented, conditioned his work to be one of passion, mystery and imagination. Due to this, his “purely imaginative” work fosters the dominant discourse of a Romantic outlook on the universe; the protagonists of the text operate within the discourse of mystery, unpredictability and the supernatural. So powerfully is this discourse constructed, that the Mariner who represents the rational and empirical spirit of the text is marginalised to his death against the force of nature and its divinity; the entity to which the discourse relegates the power.
Central to the Neo-Classical world view was the philosophical ideology of Necessitarianism; a belief dictating a very simplistic universe, where each event follows the last in a logical and rational fashion. It discourages creative thought by focussing on tradition and conformity, and maintains through its members a sense of self-restraint and respect for authority. Entering into this staunched and stiflingly civil domain was the dynamic and passionate writings and ideologies of the Romantic Movement. Critics of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere from a Neo-Classical background naturally spoke very lowly of the Romantic text due to its harshly conflicting ideologies with their own. Robert Southey appears in the October 1798 Critical Review as stating:
“This piece appears to us perfectly original in style as well as in story. Many of the stanzas are laboriously beautiful; but in connection they are absurd or unintelligible . . . We do not sufficiently understand the story to analyse it. It is a Dutch attempt at German sublimity. Genius has here been employed in producing a poem of little merit.”
Perhaps the main contributing factor to Southey’s inability to decode the poem’s meaning, lay in the style with which he read it, a style bestowed upon him by his cultural background. Such a background rigidly opposed alternate methods of experiencing poetry, such as trying to feel it rather than to understand it. In such a way, The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere represented a paradigm shift in the way poetry was interpreted; a dynamically different form of experience to what was traditionally accepted. Through this shift, and supported by his culture-breaking contemporaries, Coleridge in his writing of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere was proposing a new means of experiencing and interpreting the universe; a new cultural perspective. The depth of this perspective that is available to the reader is determined by what the reader, as a culturally inscribed individual, brings to the text.