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Coleridge's Literary Views

It is inconceivable that Coleridge, that careful constructor of the skeleton ship, the salt-water-still ocean, and ice and fog of the South Pole could not have explained what led to the wrongdoing if he had chosen to do so. It is inconceivable that this thoughtful critic of his own and others' poetry, did not intend to withhold from the reader a definitive description of the mariner's motivation. May (711) cites Anne Williams's comment on "readers' urge to interpret the text" of Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which she says derives its power "from the poem's discovery of intense, primitive anxieties fundamental to the self." Coleridge's intention, indeed, appears to be to force readers to bring to Rime of the Ancient Mariner an idiosyncratic interpretation of his motives and to draw their own conclusions about the extremity of the consequences.

Having been obliged to supply their own reasons for the mariner's behavior, the readers are led to draw the appropriate moral, which is more explicitly identified:

He made and loveth all" (Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

May (712) characterizes this moral as "puerile," unworthy of the horrific images, anxiety, and action of the rime. She cites Coleridge's acknowledgment that the "moral fails to translate the Mariner's experience," adding that it "is an abstract and pietistic attempt to summarize and thus contain the uncontainable horror of abjection." Nor does that highly explicit quatrain resolve the ambiguity of the mariner's being singled out for a lifetime of horrific memory and eternal return to punishment and expiation.

The text supplies various means of resolving the ambiguity. Was the mariner a novice sailor showing off on deck? If so, he was also familiar enough with sailing folklore to hail the appearance of the albatross "in God's name." It is possible to suggest that he had made a pact with the devil to do the "hellish thing," but deliberative evil belongs more to the narrative of ...

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Coleridge's Literary Views. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:59, August 20, 2017, from
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