Close Reading of a Poem
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a great example of a typical English ballad tradition. The poem, as a result, provides the reader with a lengthy narrative. The poem is a part of the Lyrical Ballads published by both Coleridge and William Wordsworth in 1798. This work differs from many others in the collection as it is more ballad than lyric. The phrase "lyrical ballad" was intended to signify the authors' intention to combine the two genres: the lyric, dedicated to personal experience and emotion and the ballad, which includes a storyline and characters. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner does at times feel like a lyric due its emphasis on emotion and its vivid descriptions. Nevertheless, the existence of a story points directly to a ballad. The form of the poem is similar to other older more popular English ballads. Most of the stanzas have four-lines, called a quatrain, and an ABCB rhyme scheme with the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyming. Coleridge divides the poem into seven parts. Most of the stanzas in the poem have four lines; several have five or six lines. In the four-line stanzas, the second and fourth lines usually rhyme. In the five- and six-line stanzas, the second or third line usually rhymes with the final line. The variation in form is explained by Coleridge placing more emphasis on meaning as opposed to form. The lengths of each line vary between eight syllables in the first and third lines, and six in the second and fourth. Another significant component of the structure is the meter. The poem has a significant number of iambs or unaccented syllables followed by accented ones. The meter alternates between iambic tetrameter (with four feet per line) and iambic trimeter (with three feet per line). Coleridge occasionally uses enjambment, the practice of carrying the sense of one line of verse over to the next line without a pause: “And now the storm-blast came, and he Was tyrannous and strong” (1, 41-42). Although the poem has an older structural form, there are definitely flashier, more dramatic aspects more consistent with Romanticism. The main character in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the Mariner who describes his disturbing experiences. The Mariner ends up killing the albatross, suffers the consequences, learns from his mistakes, and in the end is redeemed. As part of his reparation, he spends his life telling his story to others as a warning to make himself an example. At first sight, the mariner is frightening in looks and manner, but he is so passionate that the wedding guest is compelled to listen. As the tale unfolds, the wedding guest's reactions to the mariner range from scorn, sympathy, and finally pity. The wedding guest serves as a plot device to frame and advance the story, but he experiences a transformation of his own. Startled by the mariner who confronts him, the wedding guest first appears as a very shallow over the top character. Nevertheless, by the time he has heard the mariner's troubling story, he has become thoughtful and subdued. There are two settings in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In the first scene an ancient mariner stops a guest at a wedding party and begins to tell his tale. The mariner's words then transfer the reader on a long ocean voyage, not returning to the wedding until the end of the poem. The story is set in the late medieval period and occurs in a town which is never named. Some speculate that it is likely that Coleridge's audience pictured a British seaport like London. The mariner details a voyage he took in his younger years, leaving from an unnamed European country to the South Pole and back. The initial account of the ship and its crew are fairly believable, but as the ancient mariner begins his quest for understanding and redemption, the supernatural world increasingly overcomes him. His world becomes nightmarish in comparison to the real world that he has left behind. Despite this shift, elements from the natural...
Cited: Wu, Duncan. Romanticism: an Anthology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1994. Print.
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