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Perez 1 Michael Perez Professor Steele English 1B 16 November 2010 Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Defining an Era in 625

Lines Renowned French writer and philosopher Francois-Marie Arouet (better known as Voltaire) once stated, One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose. Indeed, his words could not ring truer when used to describe the Romantic Period (1785-1830). Ranging from the artistic styles of William Blake to the controversial and antiheroic verses of Lord Byron, the era was defined by the poets who used their works to reflect the ideals, controversies, and newfound knowledge of the time period. One of these poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, managed to do this to an astounding degree in his 625 line epic, Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Detailing one seafarers path to redemption, the poem is known for its unique take on human existence and the spiritual role of nature. However, more than anything, Rime accurately reflects upon the era in which it was written by combining elements of horror, natural respect, imagination, and individuality. Coleridges use of supernatural elements throughout Rime clearly reflects the common Romantic sentiment of disdain towards authors that used horror, violence, and antiheroism as means to entertain their readers. Assuredly a rebuttal to the overwhelming shift towards scientific and mental realism during the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment, these thematic elements of terror were most prevalent in the then wildly fashionable Gothic novels. Although the commercial success of these works undoubtedly influenced many authors to write these dark, malevolent stories for the sole sake of making a profit, other Romantic thinkers like Coleridge

Perez 2 had a very negative perception of the Gothic genre. In fact, while digressing on the idolization of the Romantic, or Satanic, hero in his work The Statesman's Manual, Coleridge went as far as to say that these works would lead to a rejection of God and the mental conversion of honest people into Napoleonic monsters (491). However, it is noteworthy that Rime itself is filled with specters and supernatural forces. In spite of that, the thematic usage of the paranormal in the poem is not for sheer entertainment value. Quite the contrary, the antiheroic protagonists eternal misery in Rime is the result of his overbearing curiosity of the unknown (specifically, what would happen if he killed an Albatross). Thus the poem makes it clear that people should be wary of what they do not understand, as ultimately it might come back to haunt them later on. Respect for nature, one of the overwhelming messages in Rime of the Ancient Mariner, was unquestionably included for a similar reason as the supernatural elements: that the unknown is not something to be reckoned with, as it can have devastating effects on human life. Seeing as the Industrial Revolution was a time of significant scientific advancement, it prompted many people to question subjects such as faith, the existence of a god, and what happens when human beings die. Being highly religious and a strong believer in the authority of nature, Coleridge responded to these new ideas by saying that curiosity could in fact result in humanitys demise. For example, in the poem the mariners penance for killing an albatross in order to find out what would happen is a lifetimes worth of telling his story to others and informing them of what could happen if they decide to fool around with the unknown. In an era where people would electrocute themselves for the sole reason of discovering what it felt like, Coleridge clearly believed that some of his contemporaries were taking their experiments too far, and that ultimately they would have to pay a price once they faced judgment from God (or nature) himself.

Perez 3 The setting of Rime of the Ancient Mariner is, albeit bleak, a distinct manifestation of what imagination means in regards to the Romantic period. Often regarded as a key component of the poetry of this era, imagination to the Romantics was the ultimate creative power that humans possessed. To paraphrase Coleridge contemporary William Wordsworth, it allows humans to play a part in the creation process of the world they live in and ultimately leads to spiritual nirvana (A Guide to the Study of Literature). Much like the prominence of supernatural themes in literature during this era, the idea of expanding the imagination was likely a response to the movements of scientific reasoning (e.g. the already mentioned Enlightenment) that were prominent during the mid-eighteenth century. In Rime, Coleridge definitely did not hold back his appreciation for human creativity. Besides the already mentioned specters and supernatural forces, he created an outlandish, alien world with icy landscapes, rotting seas, and dark forests. It is known that Coleridge (as well as several other Romantic poets) went as far as to use opium during the creation of Rime to procure hallucinations to inspire his writing. Regardless of his methods of expanding his mind, it is clear that he had a deep care for the human imagination that reflected the ideals of what it truly meant to be a Romantic writer. Before discussing the final reason as to why Rime of the Ancient Mariner accurately reflects the thoughts and ideals of the Romantic era, it is first crucial to understand the significant structural and cultural changes that were occurring in Europe and the United States during this period. The eighteenth century marked a pronounced shift away from monarchies (both the American and French Revolutions took place during this time), and as a result individual thought became a central point of interest among the people of this era. The ideas were so prominent that the Founding Fathers of the United States decided to base their newfound countrys government on the liberty and individual freedom. These concepts also led to the development of Scottish

Perez 4 economist Adam Smiths The Wealth of Nations, the book that inspired the instillation of free markets based on the idea that people operate under self-interests and personal incentives. PostRomantic poet Oscar Wilde summed up this era tersely and effectively in his work The Soul of Man Under Socialism, A man that does not think for himself does not think at all (47). Thus it is the theme of individuality that makes Rime of the Ancient Mariner a distinct reflection of the Romantic period. To start, the most prominent use of individualism in the poem is its first person narrative. The majority of the poem is told through the eyes of the mariner, and the exclusion of other perspectives allows the reader to connect to the protagonist on a personal level. This literary style also reflects the idea that earthly liberation can only come through personal experience and imaginative development, a concept that was highly regarded during this period. The mariners account of his journey represents the life cycle that all humans experience (both peaks and troughs of existence are portrayed), and his penance is symbolic of the idea that salvation can only come through ones personal acceptance and repayment of his or her sinful nature with the hope of being forgiven by God. In essence, humans individually choose their own paths, and they are each responsible for what may come should they chose to venture down the wrong road. On top of the fact that Rime of the Ancient Mariner had a profound effect on Romantic thought when it was originally published, its impacts can still be seen in several facets of modern society. For one thing, modern horror films and stories have much to owe to Rime, as its presentation of ghosts and supernatural entities assuredly, and almost ironically, helped inspire many of the later Gothic novels that proceeded it. On an even wider scale, the idea of individual salvation has become a standard of modern Western religions. In short, Rime shows that even

Perez 5 simple art forms like poetry can have massive impacts on society, and in addition can help shape the ideals of future generations to come.

Perez 6 Works Cited "A Guide to the Study of Literature: A Companion Text for Core Studies 6, Landmarks of Literature." Brooklyn College. 2 Feb. 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2010. <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html>. Stillinger, Jack, and Deidre Lynch. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2006. 491. Print. Wilde, Oscar. The Soul of Man Under Socialism. New York: General, 2010. Print.

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