Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” written in 1797, has been widely discussed throughout literary history. Although critics have come up with many different interpretations of this poem, one idea that has remained prevalent throughout these discussions is the apparent religious symbolism present throughout this poem. “The Ancient Mariner” contains natural, gothic, and biblical symbolism; however, the religious and natural symbolism, which coincide with one another, play the most important roles in this poem (Piper 43). It is apocalyptic and natural symbolism that dominates the core of this poem (43).
The biblical symbolism found in this poem mainly reflects the apocalypse, as it deals with the Mariner’s revelation that good will triumph over evil, and
his acceptance of all nature as God’s creation. It is impossible to believe that Coleridge was not thinking of the mysterious wind that blows on the Mariner, without any awareness of the wind as a Biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit. Coleridge could also not associate the murder of the albatross with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The reader is told that the Polar Spirit “loved the bird that loved the man who shot him with his bow.” It is doubtful that someone with Coleridge’s Christian background and faith could fail to see here an analogy with God who loved his son who loved the men that killed him.
Another example of symbolism is the fact that the albatross is hung around the Mariner’s neck like a crucifix. Event the “cross” in “cross-bow” hints at the murder of Jesus, which logically paces the albatross as a symbol for Christ. It is thought that Coleridge deliberately created these symbols and images with Christian meaning in mind. The apocalypse is heavily reflected upon throughout this poem as Coleridge combined the vivid colors, the ocean, and the death fires of “The Ancient Mariner” with the terror and desolation of the days of wrath in the apocalypse. The section of the poem after the Mariner kills the Albatross is a description of the emptiness and desolation that the Mariners experience, and the curse that is over the ship. This section of the poem has tremendous correspondence to the apocalyptic story. The language and form in this part of the poem represent the images and words, which have traditionally described the wrath of God and the guilt of man in Christian terms. Its is at this point in the poem that the Mariner feels guilty for having killed the Albatross and for the deaths of his shipmates. However, it is directly after this description that the Mariner observes the beauty of the water snakes and forms a respect for the presence of God in nature. In this poem Coleridge uses the wrath and guilt of the apocalypse, but adds his own ideas of divine love and conversion, which lead to paradise. Even thought the Mariner must continue with his penance, he is free of God’s wrath and is able to appreciate and love all of nature as God’s creation.
Throughout this poem there are many examples of biblical symbolism in nature. Coleridge uses different elements of nature, such as the sea, as symbols of religious thought or beliefs. The sea is where the decisive events, the moments of eternal choice, temptation, and redemption occur. While at sea, the Mariner makes the eternal choice to kill the Albatross. This choice is eternal because once the Mariner has committed the act of murder, there is nothing that he can do to change it. s a result of the Mariner’s decision, a curse falls over the ship and the Mariner is sentenced to eternal penance. The eternal penance that he must serve is a reminder to the Mariner of the choice that he made. However, even after the death of his soul, the Mariner experiences redemption when he recognizes and learns to love all God’s creations. It is a known fact that Coleridge’s thoughts and feelings where rarely affected by his beliefs, especially the apocalypse. The apocalyptic story deals with God’s freeing the soul of man from the pains of sin and death, and lifting it into paradise. After the Mariner kills the albatross, he feels as if he is under some sort of curse. However, the Mariner goes through as conversion, which thus releases his soul from the pains of sin and death so that he can once again obtain happiness.
There are two essential steps in the conversion process. The first step occurs when imaginative powers mythological appearances of nature so that the slightest willful act appears to bring down a terrible vengeance. The willful act that the Mariner partakes in is the killing of the Albatross, and the terrible vengeance that occurs because as a result of this action is the cures that is cast over the ship. The second part of this conversion process takes place at the greatest moment of hopelessness. At this point, the presence of divine love within humankind appears and emphasizes the appearance of the natural world. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is not a direct religious sermon, but there are many strong references to the Christian religion throughout the poem, which stem from Coleridge’s own religious beliefs. Although Coleridge did not take the religious images in this poem directly from the Bible, though much of his inspiration for the poem seemed to be based on religious ideas, especially that of the Apocalypse. Coleridge integrates natural symbols, which are associated with the religious symbols, into this poem in order to further emphasize his belief that God is present everywhere in nature, and that one can sent into this state of paradise when this love for God is discovered.
By using imagery from the apocalypse and religious symbolism in nature, Coleridge created an incredible poem which expresses how the realization of divine love within oneself has the power to heal pain and suffering.