The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Structural Critique

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Within the poem considered his most famous work, Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses an abundance of literary devices to contribute to the effect of the poem. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” contains many elements, each of which enhances the way the poem conveys meaning. The extensive use of alliteration, varying metrical patterns, internal and external rhyme, anaphora, caesura, enjambment, and inversion add to the complexity of the structure and the overall meaning of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which could be interpreted as love for all living things.

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is set up in the form of a ballad with seven parts. The poem follows many traditional conventions of ballads; it is a narrative as opposed to a lyric. It tells the story of the mariner and how he came to roam the seas. The stanzas are primarily quatrains, with an occasional sixains; and the rhyme scheme is nearly always abcb, with the sixain varying the scheme. The meter consists of, within the quatrains, a split between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. While much of the poem is written in traditional ballad formatting, Coleridge strays from this occasionally; it appears he is not concerned with the form so much as the meaning.

To achieve a successful conveyance of the meaning of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Coleridge uses many literary devices. One of the most prominent is alliteration, which is found in each of the seven parts of the poem. Many of the individual stanzas contain at least one instance of alliteration. From the very first stanza on, Coleridge’s use of similar consonant sounds contributes to the poem. In the first line in stanza three, “he holds him with his skinny hand,” (line 9) five of the eight syllables are alliterative. The use of this repetitive sound pattern continues throughout the stanzas, drawing attention to certain words. In part two, line 126 depicts slimy things crawling “upon the slimy sea” “Yea slimy things did crawl with legs/Upon the slimy sea” (125-126); this reveals the mariner’s feelings towards the living creatures around him. He feels no love for them; an important element to note, especially when considering the overall meaning of the poem. We also see Coleridge’s use of alliteration place emphasis on specific words in part seven when the mariner speaks of the “holy Hermit” (563). The mariner wants the Hermit to “shrieve” (575) him, or save him, from his sins. The use of alliteration helps to define the character of the Hermit as part of the mariner’s path of penance through the telling of his tale. Not only does the use of alliteration highlight specific words, which in turn draw attention towards the mariner’s feelings, but the lack of alliteration points out some of the more serious instances in the poem. The ending of most parts contain crucial information to the reader. Each ending stands out, with the exceptions of parts four and seven, because there is no alliteration in the final stanza of the parts. In part one, the lack of alliteration draws the reader’s attention to the act that the mariner shot the albatross. When the wedding guest asks “why look’st thou so?” the mariner replies “with my crossbow/I shot the albatross” (82-83). The lack of alliteration here emphasizes the seriousness of the mariner’s mistake. This is also evidenced at the end of part two, when the mariner says “ah! Well-a-day! What evil looks/Had I from old and young/Instead of the cross, the Albatross/About my neck was hung” (139-142). Here, the mariner’s mistake haunts him, as his crew members literally tie a giant, dead bird around his neck. In these instances, it is the lack of alliteration that accentuates the seriousness of the lines.

Another poetic element which Coleridge uses to point out important sections of the poem is the rhyme scheme. The use of internal and external rhyme highlights areas of the poem to which the readers should pay more attention. The...
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