Samuel Taylor Coleridge (born October 1772) is most famous for his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which was first published in 1798 in Lyrical Ballads, a collection he co-wrote with William Wordsworth. Lyrical Ballads is considered one of the major texts of Romantic poetry. Coleridge was in a group called the Lake Poets, who are often considered the fore-fathers of this widespread movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Within this collection, Coleridge contributed the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Coleridge was also philosopher, involved in metaphysics, literary critic and but was most noted as a poet. Alongside The Time of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan, though never finished. Mary Shelley grew up with the influence of Coleridge through her father who often disagreed with his views, but respected the man, often invited him into their home. It is said that Mary Shelley hid behind a couch and listened to Coleridge reciting his famous poem, and that is why it is one of her influences throughout Frankenstein. Throughout his life, Coleridge was continuously ill, mentally and physically and became addicted to opium as an escape from his diseased body. He died of heart failure in 1834.
The Rime of The Ancient Mariner was written in 1798 as part of Coleridge and Wordsworth's collection of poetry in Lyrical Ballads. This is Coleridge’s longest major poem and began a great shift into modern Romantic literature. There are many characters within this poem, but the main are that of the Mariner and the Wedding Guest to whom he tells his story. We find the Mariner out at sea with his crew of 200. His crew cares and cherishes an Albatross that they come across while at sea. The mariner decides to kill it and he has to face the consequences. He is approached by Death and an Angel of Life who loved the creature and the mariner is found alone at sea after she rolls dice with the Mariner for the crew's fate. The Mariner doesn’t feel truly sorry, and is unable to pray throughout the process of being alone. Once he is finally able to understand his guilt, we finally are faced with him praying. In the frame narrative the readers encounter a story in which the Mariner istelling his story to a random guest at a wedding, which we are lead to believe is forced upon him for all eternity. This text is very well known for it is known as one of the few “father’s” of Romantic literature. Also, being one of Coleridge’s few masterpieces; literary scholars are intrigued by his writing. “His poems of this period, speculative, meditative, and strangely oracular, put off early readers but survived the doubts of Wordsworth and Robert Southey to become recognized classics of the romantic idiom.” (Poetry Foundation)
Consequences of Destroying Nature
With the shift into the Romantic period, nature became a main staple in the literature of the time. Coleridge here, in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner focuses on a theme of destroying something they found so beautiful. When the crew first sees with the Albatross, they admire it, but once the Mariner kills it, things start to go wrong. They seem to have full control when they have not done anything to affect or harm nature, but once they do, the power of nature seems to take over. We see these in several different scenes, such as the powerful wind dying and roaring, the sun brightening (and glaring) then dimming, and the rain pouring and stopping. Nature is a character in itself, when it comes to its reactions with the other characters in the poem. In [Part the Fourth] the Mariner is faced with all the dead men, and speaks of the “slimy things that lived, [and] so did [he]”. At this point, the readers are faced with the fact that nature is truly alive and majestic. Although, the Mariner uses negative connotations towards these creatures of nature, he eventually understands their beauty and repents. The theme of nature is one of the strongest themes not only in Coleridge’s poem but in all of Romantic literature. Bringing forth the idea of how powerful nature can be in beauty and destruction was birthed in this poem.
Being a poem with a frame narrative, the Ancient Mariner’s story is an imprisonment in itself, unable to contain his story from others. Throughout his adventure at sea, he is constantly imprisoned not only by nature itself, but also by the outside forces that challenge him. When they are first set to sea, the ship is contained within the water, making it confined space that the Mariner and his crew are living on. They don’t realize this until after the Mariner kills the albatross and natural, along with outside forces seem to intensify the fact that they are within their own prison. After the death of the albatross, the wind stops and the water never comes down. With the wind stopping, they are stranded out at sea, unable to find civilization. Even with one another, they feel helpless and hopeless. Once each one of their lives is taken, the Mariner realizes that his isolation is really entrapment. At one point, the Mariner claims the sun is similar to that of a dungeon. "And straight the sun was flecked with bars, / (Heaven's Mother send us grace!) / As if through a dungeon-grate he peered / With broad and burning face." Even once the Mariner reaches land, he still isn’t released for he still much tell his story to everyone he sees, imprisoned in his own reality.
This theme is not one that Coleridge initially intended but is often seen as a main idea in this poem. The idea of repentance, prayer and beauty is nature is referred to multiple times throughout The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Though Coleridge claims this is unintended, it is hard to believe, especially in the scene of DEATH arriving in [Part the Third] and in [Part the Seventh] as the Mariner preaches a connection with God through Prayer. The idea of religion could be pushed upon this poem very easily, but the key scenes that religion is mentioned are after the Mariner seeks repentance for what he has done to God’s creations (here, this is the Albatross). In [Part the Fourth] the Mariner is finally able to pray, for he is finally truly sorry for his actions. “I looked to heaven, and tied to pray; /but or ever a prayer had gusht,/ a wiked whisper came, and made/ my heart as dry as dust.” The killing of the Albatross can also be seen as betrayal of God’s creation and betrayal of God’s rules and laws. Constantly throughout Coleridge’s poem he adds religious situations, though he never actually intended on making this a religious piece of literature.
Besides for the obvious transformation of the Mariner throughout this text, we are faced with multiple transformations both physical or mental. In the case of the Mariner, each time he tells his story, he has to repent his wrongdoings. At the beginning the poem, he is relentless and uncaring when it comes to anything around him or the consequences they may mean. Before he kills the Albatross, he is wreck less and doesn’t care that this creation of nature means anything, yet he wants to test the waters, and kills it. After his entire crew is sent into the sky one by one by the woman gambling with dice for their life, he is finally left alone and realizes that he has done wrong. Even after being left alone for this period of time, it takes him a few stanzas to realize he is actually sorry for his actions. You can see the shift of the Mariner from the beginning of the story to the end as he talks to the Wedding Guest.
The other main character that transforms in this poem is that of the Wedding Guest, who at the beginning is confused by this crazy Mariner’s story. After the Mariner “teaches” the wedding guest of his adventures and sorrows, he claims that “The Mariner, whose eye is bright, / Whose beard with age is hoar, / Is gone; and now the Wedding-Guest/ Turned from the bridegroom’s door. / He went like one that hath been stunned, / And is of sense forlorn; / A sadder and a wiser man, / He rose the morrow morn.”
Impact on Frankenstein
Comparison of Characters
Other than the obvious Romantic and Gothic similarities that both authors used in their literature, Mary Shelley was extremely influenced by Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, often using line for line in her novel. Frankenstein and the Mariner play very similar roles, where as the Monster and the albatross are parallel, as well. The constant reference of nature and the sublime plays a major role in both pieces of literature. At the beginning of Frankenstein, we are introduced to Walton who refers straight back to the moment in which the Mariner first kills the Mariner. "I am going to unexplored regions, to "the land of mist and snow;" but I shall kill no albatross, therefore do not be alarmed for my safety, or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the "Ancient Mariner?" (pg 16-17 Letter II). Here, Walton is telling his sister Frankenstein’s story and the fact that it was in his power to kill or create whomever he wanted to, but he was to face the consequences. After Frankenstein is face to face with his monster, he runs away and isolates himself as the Mariner does, once he kills the albatross. In another quote, this time by Frankenstein’s monster, we see that it is not creation’s fault in the wretchedness of which they are created, but it is the fault of the creator. "All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator detest and spurn me..." (Shelley 88). Just as the Mariner claims that the living creatures are “slimy”, he doesn’t see the beauty in creation by the wretchedness in which they cannot help.
The same themes within The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are seen throughout Frankenstein. That of nature is an obvious theme within Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, not only because of the Romantic period she was writing in, but her obsession over the beauty that nature holds. We see not only majestic areas in which the setting is placed, but the idea of the creature as nature (something that is created).
We see the theme of Imprisonment in not only the Monster as he is imprisoned by his wretchedness and away from Frankenstein, but that of Frankenstein himself, imprisoned in a world who he thinks will not understand him or the things he has done. Frankenstein is often seen as isolated and imprisoned in his own mind, unwilling to tell anyone his story (except for a few characters throughout).
The theme of Religion is also a key idea within Mary Shelley’s novel even being directly recognized in the text. The idea that Frankenstein believes himself a higher power, such as God and the Monster as his creation, or Adam, Shelley recognizes the challenges that this brings and the burden that it has on everyone in the novel.
Transformation is one of the biggest themes within the novel. The two main characters, Frankenstein and the Monster, and evehave a transformation before our eyes. Frankenstein finally realizes that he has done wrong and eventually dies being [almost] repented. The Monster makes one of the most noticeable transformations as he gains not only knowledge of his surroundings and emotions, but also the knowledge of literature, language and so much more. Walton is also transformed through his letters to his sister, eventually going home at the end of the story. Lastly, though not stated before, both stories by Shelley and Coleridge are that of Storytelling, or the Frame Narrative. This way of writing helps create an emphasis on the main story and the characters within it. The characters are not only transformed within the story being told, but the story effects and transform the characters that the story is being told to.
References and Other Readings
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Maurice Hindle. Frankenstein. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge- Biography