THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
The Moral of the Poem:
It is usually thought that great art suffers, if its didactic purpose is over-emphasized. Everyone recognizes that didacticism has something very impressive and effective about it, but no one likes a moral to be offensively obtruded in a work of art. Some go even to the extent of thinking that art and literature should be content to give pleasure and should never set out to teach a truth or preach a moral. There are those who believe that the very appearance of the didactic spirit is fatal to the fascination of a poem. In Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner the didactic purpose is too apparent. The poet has nowhere attempted to conceal the fact that the poem has a definite moral purpose behind it. It is on record that Coleridge himself was intensely aware that this may be considered a weakness in the poem by some readers. When Mrs. Barbauld told him that she found two faults in the Ancient Mariner, that it was improbable and that it had no moral, Coleridge replied that the probability of the poem might admit of some questions, but regarding the moral, he thought there was too much of it. He believed that the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly in a work of pure imagination constituted the chief blemish in the poem. It cannot be denied therefore that there is a moral in the poem and that it is prominently displayed. The question is whether the too prominent didacticism mars the beauty of the matchless work of art. The fascination of the poem depends on the great passion that inspires the verse and the mystery and romance that pervade it. It is a thing of beauty, exquisite in workmanship and intended to startle and waylay generation after generation of readers. In such a poem, even the didactic element, which may ordinarily be counted as a blemish, has all the fascination of a charm that has been superadded. Far from detracting from the superb artistic excellence of the poem, the moral that is preached...
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