Here is the link to my Twitter time line for the Romantic Period. Here
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a poem written in 1798 by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It is one of the most interesting poems of the Romantic period because scholars have not reached a solid conclusion on it’s meaning. I am going to analyze the climax of the poem, the killing of the albatross, to explore its religious significance in the following ways: Coleridge’s working religious identity, consequential fears, and the role of demonic characters.
Before we begin, this poem is influential because of its historical significance, and lasting impact on the English language. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an albatross first as a seabird, and second as, “[S]omething that causes persistent deep concern or anxiety.” Of course, this definition comes from the famous albatross featured in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The definition goes on to say that an albatross is a sign of anxious guilt, since it’s death in the poem resulted in the death of the ship’s crew. Now that we see proof of this poem’s significance, let’s begin analyzing.
Coleridge was struggling with his religious identity when he wrote this poem, and he transcended his inner turmoil into the Mariner, specifically his curse. The Mariner walks the Earth and spreads the word not to sin, which is a Christian duty. An essay by Michael Murphy entitled “Coleridge and Atheism in the 1790s” highlights Coleridge’s life-long journey with religion. He writes, “Coleridge had an enduring repulsion and attraction for pantheism; the attraction to “one life” philosophy that he shared with Wordsworth and Thelwall is apparent in Coleridge’s poetry,” (Murphy). Pantheism believes that the universe is a manifestation of God.
Most branches of Christianity are pantheistic in the belief that all living things have a divine quality, since they were created by God. Under pantheism, God is everything and everything is God. As Coleridge strived to find his religious identity, he was torn between his personal need to investigate different religions, and his feelings of moral obligation to God, “Christianity is expressed as a heartfelt truth. It triumphs over his speculative interests,” (Murphy).
Coleridge returned to the Church of England in 1814, 16 years after he wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The Church of England practices the Anglican Communion, the third largest Christian community. Coleridge was struggling with his religious identity as he wrote the poem, which is why it is so full of religious symbolism.
Coleridge is projecting his fear of losing access to God and the heavens through the Mariner’s killing of the albatross. It is Coleridge’s way of expressing his fears that his sins will not be forgiven, and he will not be absolved by God. His period of religious fluidity insinuates a shaken faith in God, which is a sin. The killing of the albatross is the climax of the poem, it is all downhill from there. It results in the Mariner wandering the world, spreading his story in order to convince people not to make his same mistakes; not to sin. The albatross, when alive, is a good omen because when there is a bird, there is land. Birds carry a lot of spiritual symbolism. They are thought to serve as bridges between the Heavens and Earth. Birds have an access to Heaven that humans do not, “And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’”(Genesis 1:20, The Bible, English Standard Version.) When the Mariner murders the albatross, he destroys the one thing connecting the crew to the spiritual guidance of the divine.
One could interpret this projection in many ways. I believe it exemplifies pride, one of the seven deadly sins under Christianity. According to the “Deadly Sins” website, “Pride is excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity,” (Shannon). Coleridge does not offer a salient reason why the Mariner shot the albatross; why he committed this sin. The Mariner demonstrates pride, “Then all averred, I had killed the bird / That brought the fog and mist,” (lines 99-100). The Mariner convinced himself that he did the right thing, establishing dominance as captain over the crew. He trusts his own abilities in an attempt to maintain his status. The sin of pride is known to be the root of the other deadly sins, comparable to how the Mariner’s sin causes problems, including the deaths of his crew members, all two-hundred of them.
The demonic characters in the poem, Death and Life-in-Death, symbolize the consequences of sinning; they take Coleridge’s fear of divine rejection and spice it up with the idea of Hell. The Mariner first reacts to them, “And is that Woman all her crew? / Is that a Death? And are there two? / Is Death that woman’s mate?,” (lines 187-189). The woman, Life-in-Death, is dominant over Death, as she is the captain and he is her mate. These two characters exemplify the Grim Reaper myth, because they are there to collect the souls of the crew. The death of the crew ties back to the Mariner’s sin; he watches their souls shoot up, just like the crossbow he shot the albatross with.
This encounter establishes the Mariner’s curse, “The man hath penance done, / And penance more will do,” (lines 408-409). Death and Life-In-Death demand a drastic change from the Mariner; they killed his crew to show they mean business, and they let him live so he could follow the path that God wants him to take. In the end, all the Mariner can do is attempt to repent in order to be absolved of his sins; all Coleridge can do is carry out his Christian duty in the hope of going to Heaven.
During my research I discovered that the band, Iron Maiden, has a song entitled, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The lyrics summarize the plot in full; it is over 13 minutes long. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA2cGy_iDTk
“Albatross.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 2018, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/albatross.
- H. Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Volume D. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company. 1962.
Murphy, Michael. “Coleridge and Atheism in the 1790s .” Friends of Coleridge, 1998, www.friendsofcoleridge.com/MembersOnly/Murphy.html.
Shannon, Adam. “Sins, Virtues, and Tales.” Seven Deadly Sins, www.deadlysins.com/.
Smith, Stephen. “100 Bible Verses about Birds.” What Does the Bible Say About Birds?, Open Bible, English Standard Version, 2001, www.openbible.info/topics/birds.
The Romantic period, ah, full of kissing and flowers. If that is your interoperation of the romantic period, then you best think again. The Romantic period, which lasted from 1789-1837, was anything but romantic, it is quite the opposite. This means that is was all about romanticizing the lives of the poor and the slaves. Many writers of this time period believed that great spirits were wandering the earth; as in people that are making monumental changes in literature, art and politics.
With all the great writers, comes great pieces of writing. The hot topic was of course, you guessed it, the romance genre, the goal being to achieve wonder by frank violation of natural laws and of the ordinary cause of events and lots of use of the supernatural. Romances were writings that turned in their quest for settings conducive to supernatural happenings to, “strange fits of passion” and “strange adventures” to distant pasts, faraway places or even both. Nature still takes its course throughout this period as well, that is something that we didn’t leave in the restoration period. Writers will always find the time to takea stroll through nature and relate things, such as leeches, to their personal life.
Throughout the course, we studied some works that offer the perfect representation of the genre. William Wordsworth gave us, “Resolution and Independence.” In this poem, we stroll through the countryside in the woods with a man. He begins to feel joyous with the lively and refreshed creatures around him, comparing his happiness to theirs when he suddenly begins to hit a wall and realizes the care-free life he has been living. He stumbles upon a man starring into the mud, who he eventually finds out to be a leech gatherer. With that, he realizes that he doesn’t have it all that bad. He compares not only his life lived to the creatures, but to the leech gatherer himself.
The man thinks that the leech gatherer has everything made out for him, in this poem he is romanticizing the poor life of the leech gatherer. The man in the poem seems to believe that gatherer has endured the many hardships of his life with patience and acceptance, and he looks up to that. In this poem, we get a mix of the few aspects of the romance genre.
http://medhum.med.nyu.edu/view/286 This is a website that does a good job of simply breaking down the poem and whats going on. Also mentioned is the idea of the common man, which Wordsworth was all about. He wanted to write for the common man in the language of the common man for the common man. In this poem, the leech gatherer is the representation of that, and although he seems common at first, the man finds out that he has a lot to learn from him.
Another piece of work that we looked it that is a good representation of the romance genre and the characteristics in it is Olaudan Equino’s, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudan Equino.” This is a novel that highly romanticized being a slave. This novel takes place during the French Revolution, meaning that many of the whites are complaining about not having rights, yet the slaves are clearly struggling more than me and aren’t even free.
In this story, Olaudan has been able to do want many slaves dream of, he was able to see his life how he wanted it to be, he was able to get out of slavery and not be treated or traded like a piece of land. This is where the romanticization comes in. Not all slaves were able to be as lucky as him, this is just a rare success story, though it could lead many to believe that this was the outcome for most of them. In this rare circumstance, he was able to escape slavery and become a free black man and he was able to decide who he wanted to marry; his own destiny. Of course he went through the rough treatment with the muzzles, the branding, the name changing, like all the others and that can not be forgotten.
“I was sensible of the invisible hand of God, which guided and protected me when in truth I knew it not: still the Lord pursued me although I slighted and disregarded it; this mercy melted me down. When I considered my poor wretched state I wept, seeing what a great debtor I was to sovereign free grace. Now the Ethiopian was willing to be saved by Jesus Christ, the sinner’s only surety, and also to rely on none other person or thing for salvation.” (Equiano). In this quote, he is realizing that he has been blessed by the invisible hand of God, he realizes that he has been gifted with a second chance in life and to live it by his own rules and judgement.
In the end, we are able to see some characteristics such as nature, supernatural happenings, strange adventures and the romanticization of poetry through these two big pieces during the time of the Romantic Period. Of course there are many more that portray many of this characteristics and we took a look at a few in class. Some of them being, “Ode to the West Wind” and “Mont Blanc” by Percy Shelley as well as, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
When we think of the egotistical sublime in literature, we tend to think about lyric poetry written by the likes of William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. The Romantic period is full of egotistical ideals, and they are found outside of our lyric poetry. Canonically, the era is dominated by lyric poetry with sprinkles of familiar essays and novels. Springing off of neoclassicism in the Restoration period, classical forms were still written by popular poets, among them were Percy Shelley and John Keats. These classic forms tend to be placed under the category of the romantic sublime, when they were actually just as egotistical as their lyric counterparts. It was often argued by lyric poets that classic forms prevented poets from putting emotion into their work, but poets like Shelley and Keats were there to prove them wrong. The Romantic period is known for using lyric poetry to show the egotistical sublime, but despite this, it can be seen in the classical forms that were brought back into popularity by the likes of Percy Shelley and John Keats.
The egotistical sublime focuses on the importance of nature and natural beauty. Poets would enjoy a walk through nature, a seemingly meaningless experience, and then sit down to write a piece. These pieces would address the power and magnitude of nature as a whole while they told their stories about what, to the everyday person, would quite literally just be a walk in the park. The “sublime” is the point where nature overpowers reason. The egotistical part comes in when poets would interpret everything that they saw in relation to themselves. For example, a poet would take a walk, see something beautiful, and wonder if people would remember them after they died. The idea is that everything is related to the poet and makes them think of themselves, especially if it is beautiful and found in nature. The problem with the egotistical sublime is that a piece about an overwhelming experience with nature turns into a “woe is me” sort of poem, that we may find in a sad teenager’s diary.
In Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind”, he draws inspiration from the winds of autumn that spread leaves and seeds in preparation for the upcoming spring time. In nature, this is the way that new things are able to grow once the warmer weather finally arrives at the end of the winter. Shelley takes this and applies it to his writing. In the fifth section of the poem he writes, “Drive my dead thoughts over the universe/Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth”(Shelley)! Shelley wants his thoughts to be spread out as far as they can be after his death. He compares these thoughts to leaves that are dying in order to bring on a new beginning. The reference to “wither’d leaves” draws the reader back to the point of leaves dying and moving around through the wind in order to transport the seeds to new places. His “dead thoughts” are a key point that ties into the egotistical sublime because it is Shelley’s way of bringing his thinking about himself into the poem while still reflecting on the natural phenomenon of the leaves falling as the seasons change. The poem, as this line shows, is about Shelley wanting his ideas to carry on long after he has passed on. He wants his inspiration to spread across the West and aid the writers of the future. Shelley uses nature as a way to express his concerns about himself and what will happen to his ideas once he is gone.
John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is an ode that moves back and forth between Keats’s admiration for the nightingale and his own longing for death. He is experiencing some sort of emotional turmoil from beginning to end, and the song of the nightingale helps to carry along his thoughts. Keats uses this poem that, on the surface, is about a bird and the place that it calls home, as a way to channel his feelings about himself. In the final stanza, Keats writes, “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell/To toll me back from thee to my sole self”(Keats)! He has a moment where he is drawn away from his thoughts about the nightingale and its song, and he moves back to thinking about himself. When he uses “forlorn”, he means that hopelessness is what signals for himself to step away from his thoughts about the bird and its song. The phrase “sole self” is interesting because he has spent seven stanzas talking about himself in relation to nature, and is now going to focus completely on himself, without relying on the song of a bird. The conclusion that can be drawn here is that while Keats has been getting lost in the song of the bird and the darkness of the woods, he has not lost sight of the problem that has struck
him since the beginning; Keats has been struggling with feelings of numbness since the first stanza. This piece relates to the egotistical sublime because Keats finds a way to relate his wallowing to the natural environment where he has enjoyed the beauty of nature, particularly the home of the nightingale.
The egotistical sublime is evident in each piece because of the reference to natural elements and the relationship to themselves. Shelley thinks of the wind and hopes that it will help to carry on his legacy long after he is gone. A poem that could have been about the changing of seasons became a piece about his concerns about himself and the inspiration of his own words on the poets of the future. Keats took his thoughts about a time he spent listening to happy songs of a nightingale and related it to his own feelings of numbness and hopelessness. Both poets went against the arguments made by the lyric poets. Regardless of the form of a poem, emotion can still be found in pieces that follow the classic models. “Ode to the West Wind” and “Ode to a Nightingale” are both pieces that prove that the egotistical sublime is a concept that can be placed in any poem and is not unique to the lyric poets.
In Emperor of Europe, play as the small and feisty Napoleon Bonaparte. Fight the British army as they throw the book at you, literally! Advance and conquer with each famous writer and literary works you can identify, analyze and categorize using literary devices from the Romantic period. Use your head to become Emperor of Europe!
Link to App pitch here.
Hey y’all, here’s a snazzy little link to my podcast about William Blake’s two versions of The Chimney Sweeper from Songs of Innocence & Experience.
The Haunted Beach is one of Mary Robinson’s most successful pieces of literature. Not only that, but its smooth-sounding rhythm caught the attention of Samuel Coleridge. As we know, in The Haunted Beach we are given the image of a mysterious beach, accompanied by a fisherman, and later two individuals who discover the body of a dead man. In class, we talked about how the fisherman was sad and guilty, and we theorized the possibility that the shipwrecked man is actually the fisherman, and the dead body is the one of the real fisherman. This to me seemed almost impossible, but had me thinking of the idea that what if the shipwrecked man was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and came across a fisherman who killed him specifically for what he possessed in his pockets. Therefore, a more sinister image is being portrayed in this poem. The fisherman is in fact a murderer, who murdered the shipwrecked man, and murdered the two individuals accompanying him as clearly shown by descriptions of the characters’ backstories.
To understand the eery imaging being portrayed in this poem, we first need to understand the first two stanzas:
Upon a lonely desert beach,
Where the white foam was scatter’d,
A little shed uprear’d its head,
Though lofty barks were shatter’d.
The sea-weeds gathering near the door,
A sombre path display’d;
And, all around, the deafening roar
Re-echoed on the chalky shore,
By the green billows made.
Above a jutting cliff was seen
Where sea-birds hover’d craving;
And all around the craggs were bound
With weeds–for ever waving.
And here and there, a cavern wide
lts shadowy jaws display’d;
And near the sands, at ebb of tide,
A shiver’d mast was seen to ride
Where the green billows stray’d.
In the beginning of the poem, Robinson presented us with an eerie description of the beach in Europe by using gothic/moody language. We learned in class and through presentations that gothic language is language that presents a dark picture, meaning moody tones, phrases, even the supernatural. In the first two stanzas of the poem, we are already being set up for this murder mystery scene. Mary Robinson does this by setting up the reader’s impression of this beach such as by saying “upon a lonely desert beach” (line 1), “a sombre path displayed” (line 6), “the deafening roar/ re-echoed on the chalky shore” (line 8-9), “its shadowy jaws display’d” (line 15) and a “a shiver’d mast was seen to ride” (line 17). These are just few phrases used by Robinson that provoke an eerie images of the beach before we meet the fisherman. A lonely desert beach portrays the image of a beach with nobody on it, and the phrase “its shadowy jaws” when referring to the cavern provoke the reader into thinking something dark and twisted is about to happen because of that word “jaws”. Most people have the connotation of “jaws” referring to sharp teeth or danger because of the movie Jaws. Below I have two pictures displaying what image I think she is trying to display and why it is important for us to understand the scenery before we get into the action.
Now that we have touched briefly on the mood of the poem and the language Robinson presents, let’s get into why we are really here and talk about the fisherman. The fisherman is a murderer because he has ghosts following him on the beach.
“The fisherman beheld a band/ Of spectres gliding hand in hand–/ Where the green billows play’d/ And pale their faces were as snow,” (lines 25-26).
Something sinister is clearly happening here because of these individuals accompanying the fisherman. The phrase “pale their faces were as snow”. gives hint to that. This phrase is referring to the specters, or ghosts. The definition of a specter is a ghost, according to the Cambridge Dictionary. This stanza translates to “the fisherman sees a group of ghosts hand in hand where the green tides were, their faces pale as snow” because of how beheld refers to seeing, and a band is a group (Cambridge Dictionary). There is a reason why these specters are following the fisherman, and that is because he is haunting them for murdering him. The fisherman has a guilty conscience as shown further down, and part of this is because of his murderous ways. I interpret the above quote as being a hint that the fisherman has committed murder in the past, because why else would he have a group of ghosts following him hand-in-hand?
The fisherman is also a murderer because he murdered the shipwrecked man found in the hut. The murdered man in the hut is the shipwrecked man who had “Spanish gold” in his pocket. We know that the moment he reached the land, he was murdered because of the lines “And mark’d the sailor reach the land,/ And mark’d his murderer wash his hand/ Where the green billows play’d.” (lines 61-62). This can be interpreted as the sailor was murdered as soon as he washed ashore, because of the phrases “marked the sailor reach the land” and “marked his murderer wash his hand”. These two phrases play off of each other, and show parallels except for “the sailor” and “the murderer”, showing that the sailor washed up on the same shores that he was murdered at. We also know that it was murder because of the overkill, specifically because he has “ten wide gashes in his head”. 10 gashes in someone’s had is a little overkill if it is anything but an accident. Some murderers look back on the places where they dump their victim’s bodies, so it wouldn’t shock me if this is what the fisherman is doing when he walks there with his band of specters.
In the beginning of the second-to-last stanza, we are told that murderer, I mean, the fisherman, is feeling guilty about something as mentioned prior. Specifically we are told “And since that hour the fisherman/ Has toil’d and told in vain;” (lines 63-64). This is followed after being told about the murderer washing his hands in the same water that the shipwrecked man ended up. If the fisherman did nothing wrong, and did not kill this man, then why is he feeling guilty about something? Let’s look now at the very last stanza:
Full thirty years his task has been,
Day after day more weary;
For Heaven design’d his guilty mind
Should dwell on prospects dreary.
Bound by a strong and mystic chain,
He has not power to stray;
But destined misery to sustain,
He wastes, in solitude and pain,
A loathsome life away. (lines 82-90)
(For a better understanding, in modern language this means:
For thirty years his job has been,/ Day after day more hard;/ For Heaven made his guilty mind/ in a way that he must think about things that make him sad. Attached by a chain, he cannot leave; but only stay in mystery, he wastes away his life in misery, he wastes his lonely life away”.)
This is important to look at because of the fact that it says he is basically chained by his guilty mind because of the fact that he feels guilty for the murders he has committed. Why is he guilty? How could someone feel guilty if they did not do something awful? Shelley AJ Jones, a scholar from the University of South Carolina- Colombia, actually discusses this as well in her dissertation: Revising for Genre: Mary Robinson’s Poetry from Newspaper Verse to Lyrical Tales. She agrees saying, “This poem, unique among the tragic tales, centers its tale on an anti-hero, the Fisherman whose murder and resultant guilt bind him eternally to the place of his crime (Jones, 150). However, she touches on how fisherman has the motive of the Spanish gold for being the reason of the murder, and that he is stuck there on the beach because of his guilty mind. I agree with her for the most part, but I am still unconvinced that he murdered the shipwrecked man just for the purpose that he has gold. This is because there are other ghostly figures on the beach, and I have the interpretation that the fisherman also killed those people as well though the poem does not have any definite proof alluding to that.
Clearly, there is so much more going on with this poem beneath the surface. Originally, I thought that this poem was about a serial killer, and that the fisherman murdered the two people he saw hand-in-hand. Once I began researching this poem, and looking up almost every word, I have a new understanding. I know now that the fisherman was being accompanied by ghosts rather than people that he was going to kill because of how “spectres” are ghosts. And I am more certain on my stance that the fisherman is in fact a serial killer, and viciously murdered the shipwrecked man in addition to his ghostly pals. I am curious what other people thought about this poem, so leave a comment below with your interpretation.
Cambridge University Press. “Cambridge online dictionary,” Cambridge Dictionary online.
Robinson, Mary. “The Haunted Beach”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Romantic Period. Gen. ed Julia Reidhead. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. 83-84. Print.
Jones, S. Revising for Genre: Mary Robinson’s Poetry om Newspaper Verse to Lyrical Tales. (Doctoral dissertation). 2014. Retrieved from hp://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/3008
McClellan, Ann. “The Romantic Period” Rethinking Modern British Lit. Spring 2018. Plymouth State University. In-class discussion.
Bell, James. Masts of the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery lying 1 mile north of the Sheerness in the Thames Estuary. http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-masts-of-the-wreck-of-the-ss-richard-montgomery-lying-1-mile-north-145366937.html
Caucino, Robert. Dyrholary, a black volcanic beach on the south coast of Iceland, Europe. https://www.shutterstock.com/video/clip-5343395-stock-footage-dyrholaey-a-black-volcanic-beach-on-the-south-coast-of-iceland-europe.html
USA Today, A hurricane in Ireland? They may become more common. No date available. https://www.usatoday.com/videos/weather/2017/10/16/-hurricane-ireland-they-may-become-more-common/106712022/
I found an article talking about life in the Romantic Period. It goes over what life was like in households, at work, what the thought process was like and little things like that. It was interesting that it talked about sanitation at this point in time which wasn’t very great but they were making improvements during this time.
During a time when art outlets changed from focusing on the rich to the poor some very interesting painting and artists rose up to make names for themselves. Included below are pictures of famous paintings and a little blerb about them. For further reading check out this article.
The Nightmare (1781) By Henry Fuseli
Fuseli was inspired by Marry Shelley and many did not understand his macabre paintings.
The Third of May 1808 (1814) By Francisco Goya
This painting by Goya depicts Napolean and his troops publicly executing some Spaniards.
The Hay Wain (1821) By John Constable
Constable who lived in rural England, wanted to show man as part of nature instead of standing back and observing it.