VII TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. A wedding guest who does not know the mariner is forced to listen to his tale. Is this device effective? Is the guest meant to guide the reader’s response to the mariner’s tale?
2. A wedding is a social celebration of natural order and of new beginnings. Why is it significant that the mariner tells his story to a wedding guest? Would the moral of the story have been changed if the mariner told his tale to the groom or bride?
3. In later versions of the poem, Coleridge removed many archaic words and spellings that appeared in the original version. Among his revisions was the addition of the epigraph and the marginal glosses. How important are the glosses to your understanding of the poem? Does this suggest that Coleridge was successful or unsuccessful in conveying his meaning poetically?
4. Many Romantics believed that a writer could only write when inspired to do so. What do Coleridge’s revisions of this poem indicate about the importance of editing in the writing process?
5. Why does the mariner kill the albatross? Is his action a typically human response or trait? Why does Coleridge spend comparatively little time describing the incident?
6. What is the significance of the albatross being hung around the mariner’s neck?
7. The ancient mariner’s shipmates all die fairly unpleasant deaths. Is it fair that they should suffer because of his actions?
8. At the beginning of part 4, the wedding guest interrupts the mariner’s story to express his fears. Why does Coleridge not have the mariner tell his tale straight through?
9. What is the importance of the line, “I looked to heaven, and tried to pray” (1. 244)?
10. Discuss the meaning and importance of the last eight lines of the poem. Is there a moral to this poem? Where is it explicitly stated?
VIII IDEAS FOR REPORTS AND PAPERS
1. It has been said that “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is about twice as long as it needs to be. What would be the effect of reducing the poem’s length? Specifically what passages might you delete, and why?
2. Symbols are important in this poem. Traditionally, snakes have represented both good (as on the symbol for the medical profession, where they represent healing powers) and evil (as with the serpent in the Garden of Eden). After checking at the library for other examples of the symbolic use of snakes, explain why you think Coleridge involved a water snake in the poem’s climax.
3. In literature and folklore the human eye is typically considered a mirror of the soul. Discuss Coleridge’s use of this tradition, examining each of the incidents in which eyes are mentioned in the poem (including lines 3, 12, 139, 144, 215, 228, 251, 255, 260, 332, 416, 436, 440, 485, 560, 567, and 618).
4. In terms of the poem’s theme, compare “The very deep did rot: O Christ!/ That ever this should be!/ Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs/ Upon the slimy sea” (11. 123-126) with “O happy living things! no tongue/ Their beauty might declare” (11. 282-283). Consider the concept of the appreciation of life and the fact that “a spring of love gushed” from the mariner’s heart as he blessed the snakes “unaware.” He had killed the albatross in a thoughtless moment; why is it important that he bless the snakes unthinkingly?
5. Discuss Coleridge’s use of imagery in this poem, citing examples to verify your points.
6. Discuss the use of Christian elements in this poem.
7. How does Coleridge incorporate supernatural elements in the poem? What is the function of these elements? How do the supernatural elements relate to the natural elements?
8. Do you think that Coleridge successfully used simple, colloquial language in this poem? In your commentary be sure to consider the impact of the ballad form and rhyme scheme on the narrative style.
9. Read the statements of purpose in Wordsworth’s preface to Lyrical Ballads and in chapter 14 of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. Determine how well “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” meets the poets’ intended goals and utilizes their stated methods of expression.