The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772 in Devon, England as the youngest and fourteenth child of Reverend John Coleridge. A brilliant student and a philosopher, Coleridge wrote renowned literary criticism as well as poetry. He traveled extensively in his life, and he is known to have struggled with an opium addiction. By publishing the joint work Lyrical Ballads with William Wordsworth in 1798 (in which the Rime of the Ancient Mariner was the longest piece) he launched the Romantic Movement in England. Coleridge’s work was very well received by his contemporaries, and had a lasting impact on the Romantic Movement he started, on Gothic writers, and on American transcendentalism. Coleridge died in 1834 from heart failure and health complications likely linked to his drug use.
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Historical Context of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Coleridge was one of the founders of the Romantic Movement, which developed in the early 19th century in response to the Age of Enlightenment—Enlightenment thinkers in the 18th century placed reason above all else. Coleridge also wrote during the time of the budding Industrial Revolution, where technology seemed to threaten the balance of humanity’s relationship with nature. Romantics valued emotion over reason and emphasized a glorification and appreciation of nature. The poem is not placed in any specific time period, though it is heavily invested in Romantic ideas, and it draws on both early explorers and contemporary accounts of wild discoveries and sea journeys. While the Age of Discovery was just ending, expeditions (especially for the North and South Poles) were being mounted as ships could sail across the globe with greater and greater ease.

Other Books Related to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Many argue that the Rime of the Ancient Mariner was inspired by accounts of voyages to the Antarctic by James Cook or the Arctic by Thomas James. Wordsworth, however, claimed that the poem was inspired by a conversation between himself and the poet regarding George Shelvocke’s A Voyage Round the World by Way of the Great South Sea, a 1726 book that Wordsworth was reading that included an account of a sailor shooting an albatross. The poem’s influence on other writers spreads throughout the Romantic Movement, especially on other poets and the subgenre of lyrical ballads (Lyrical Ballads is also the title of the collection in which the Rime of the Ancient Mariner was published). Perhaps most famously, Coleridge’s poem influenced Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, which, though it is in many ways a Gothic novel, includes parallels with the appreciation for the sublime and the exploration of the poles found in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In her novel, Shelly references the poem directly.
Key Facts about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • Full Title: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  • When Written: 1797-1798
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: First published in 1798, revised and republished in 1817 and 1834
  • Literary Period: Romanticism
  • Genre: Poetry
  • Setting: Wedding Reception, the Sea
  • Climax: The Mariner’s spiritual realization that he must value and respect all of God’s creatures and live in harmony with and awe of nature.
  • Antagonist: The Mariner himself, Death, Life-In-Death
  • Point of View: The poem begins with a third person account of the Wedding Guest being stopped by the Ancient Mariner, then quickly transitions to a first person story told by the Mariner, occasionally interrupted by the Wedding Guest and on one occasion by two spirits called only “First Voice” and “Second Voice.”

Extra Credit for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Opium and Bipolar Disorder. Coleridge experienced anxiety and depression throughout much of his life, and it is theorized that he suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He was also often physically ill, and was given treatment with laudanum, which led to a serious opium addiction.

Opus Maximum. Though famous as a poet, Coleridge also wrote extensively in prose. He wrote literary criticism and philosophy, including a massive work called Opus Maximum, which attempted to reconcile reason with faith. He was unable to complete this project during his lifetime and left behind only fragments. These obscure fragments were mostly unknown until they were published in 2002, and there is still no critical consensus on whether Opus Maximum is a success or not, and what exactly Coleridge was trying to do in writing it.