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Sin And Redemption In The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Essay, Research Paper

The premise of sin and redemption is evident in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous ballad “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. The poem focuses on the trials and tribulations of the main character, the mariner. The narrative starts as the mariner and his ship set off to sea.

The mariner’s sin is fundamentally unpremeditated and unfounded. Sin, According to the editors of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, is “A vitiated state of human nature in which the self is estranged from God” (I, 1083). Sin was precisely what happened to the mariner. In a display of utter disregard for one of god’s creatures, the mariner shot the albatross. According to Robert Penn Warren in, A Poem of Pure Imagination: An Experiment in Reading, the murder of the Albatross came abruptly and for no apparent reason. (E, 27) A passage from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “…With my crossbow I shot the Albatross!” illustrates how motiveless the killing of the albatross really was (A, I, 79 – 82). The idea of a crime against god implements itself through a crime against nature. If the mariner murders a human, the crime is then against man, and thus eclipses the religious significance

involved in the murder, rendering the symbolism useless (E –27). The implication of a crime against God progresses when the crewmembers remove the cross from around the

mariner’s neck; and replaced it with the albatross (E, 27-28): “Ah, welladay! What evil looks had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross about my neck was hung” (A, II, 139-142). This action is an important element in the advancement of the poem. By replacing the mariner’s cross with the albatross, the crewmember’s action symbolically characterized the exodus of the Holy Spirit from the mariner. The death of the creature of God, like the death of Jesus will work to aid in the redemption and salvation of the mariner (E-27, 28).

The crewmembers played a vital role in the sin of the mariner. The crewmember’s first reaction to the murder of the albatross is to rebuke it as shown by this quote, “Ah Wretch! Said they, such birds to slay, that made the breeze to blow” (A, II, 95-96). By making a remark, the crewmembers formed the first foundation of their sin. Jesus states in the New International Version of the Holy Bible, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Mathew 7:1). By judging the mariner, the crewmembers submitted themselves to the judgment of heaven. By doing so, they set themselves up for a punishment that could be deemed far worse that any that they might have deserved.

The second sin of the crewmembers comes when they condone the murder of the albatross by saying, “T’was right, said they, such birds to slay, that bring the fog and mist” (A, II, 101-102). As the crewmembers notice that the murder of the albatross bears no immediate effects on the weather, they consequently approve of the murder. By doing

so, the crewmembers made themselves collaborators in the crime. Subsequently, the breeze vanished and the sky became foggy again. “Down dropped the breeze, the sails

dropped down, T’was sad as sad could be; and we did speak only to break the silence of the sea”(A, II, 107-110). The crewmembers again contradict themselves and condemn the

mariner for what he had done: “Ah, welladay! What evil looks had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the albatross about my neck was hung” (A, II, 139-142). After an encounter with life-in-death, the crewmembers all drop dead. According to Warren, the deaths of the crewmembers were justified in that “The fellow mariners have, made the desire the measure of the act: they first condemn the act, when the think the bird had brought the fog; then in the dead calm, again condemn the act” (E, 28). They have made man’s expediency the primary concern. By doing so, the crewmembers isolate themselves from nature and thereby, from god since nature is the work of god.

While in its context the poem makes sense, under closer review flaws in the cause and effect sequence began to appear according to James D. Bougler in, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”- Introduction (F, 13-14). To assume that the poem follows the ordinary chain of cause and effect would be to not understand the poem (F, 13). The only way to understand the ballad is to have recognized that during the voyage, the cause and effect sequence is not in place. Unlike real life, the poem followed no true set of governing rules. For example, in real life, one would expect that by working hard, success would come (F, 13). While in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the logic is more on par with “If I feed an Albatross, an ice-flow will break up” (F, 13). This logic, or lack thereof, can be attributed to a host of things. According to Bougler, David Hume’s

theory of causation could be a possible explanation. The theory of Causation says that, “things happen in this or that way, and men call cause-effect that which habitually

happens in the same way. Thus cause-effect and if-then sequences are habits, and logic a statement of known custom or convention in the world” (E, 14).

The sun and the moon play a symbolic role in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Robert Penn Warren states in A Poem of Pure Imagination: An Experiment in Reading, “There is a constant contrast between moonlight and sunlight, and the main events of the poem can be sorted out according to the kinds of light in which they occur” (E, 29). In the poem, the good events correlate with the moon, and the bad events take place while under the sun. Coleridge underscores the importance of the distinction between the two kinds of light by introducing the poem by a motto from Burnet (E, 29), which ends by saying, “But meanwhile we must earnestly seek after truth, maintaining measure, that we may distinguish things certain from those uncertain, day from night”(E, 29). In the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the context of the quote seems to be reversed. As the voyage begins, the sun is burning brightly overhead. The crew is in good spirits, but soon hereafter a storm strikes the ship sending it wildly off course. At night, when the moon comes out, the Albatross first shows up ass illustrated in this quote, “In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud, it perched for vespers nine; whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white, glimmered the white moon-shine” (A, I, 75-79). The moon is not the only element of nature that is associated with the albatross, the wind relates with the bird, as well. As shown when the albatross first showed up, “And a good south wind sprung up behind; the albatross did follow …” (A, I, 71, 72). Before long, the mariner shoots the albatross, and

the rising of the sun soon follows. Immediately upon the rising of the sun, the mariners accept the murder of the albatross (E, 34). The sun is symbolically the cause of their

acceptance of the crime. The crewmembers justify the crime because the bird had brought the fog and mist or, the moon. To say it another way, the crewmembers renounce the fog and mist, which are one and the same with the moon (E, 34). At this point, the sun is first introduced. According to Warren the sun is, “ the light which shows the familiar as familiar, it is the light of practical convenience, it is the light in which pride preens itself, which had risen so promisingly and so gloriously” (E, 34). Part III is split into two scenes, one of the sun, one of the moon, in even balance (E, 35). In part III, there is an elaborate description of the sun. As the sun goes down, the moon comes out, and a description is given of it as well. Warren states that in the moon are the three phases of the redeeming process, which are: “ First, the recognition of happiness and beauty; second, love; third; the blessing of the creatures; fourth, freedom from the spell” (E, 37). As the mariner and his ship make their way home, he spots his home port, which he sees basking in the moonlight.

While the theme of sin has been thoroughly covered, the premise of redemption is left open for explanation. Redemption is the act of being pardoned after one has requested forgiveness. This is mostly seen in the bible when Jesus encourages his followers to pray to god for forgiveness, and they would be saved. According to this definition, redemption is exactly what the mariner experienced. He saw the sea snakes, he recognized their beauty, and he blessed them by saying, “Oh happy living things! No tongue their beauty might declare…Sure my kind saint took pity on me, and I blessed them unaware” (A, IV, 282-287) He did not ramble on, nor did he make a scene, he quietly blessed them just as Jesus says to do in the New International Version of the Holy Bible, “But when you pray, go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you and pray to your father secretly, and your father, who knows your secrets, will reward you” (Mathew 6: 6). The act of blessing the sea snakes was the first step towards the mariner’s redemption. According to Humphry House in “The Ancient Mariner”, “Just as the albatross was not a mere bird, so these are not mere water-snakes – they stand for all happy living things” (B, 63). The first step towards redemption for the mariner was the recovery of love and the recovery of the power of prayer (B, 63). As the mariner blesses the sea snakes, the albatross, which has been hung around his neck, falls off and sinks into the sea. This symbolically is the return of Christ to the mariner (A, IV, 290-291). The second redemption of the mariner comes when the crewmembers reappear. According to Robert Penn Warren, the reappearance of the crewmembers is the relief from the curse (E, 40).

The hermit and the wedding guest are both important figure is the redemption of the mariner. The hermit is a priest of god and the wedding guest is the catalyst into which the mariner confides his story, as he is doomed to do for the remainder of his days. The hermit is not only a priest of God, he is also a priest of society. It is the hermit that accepts the mariner back into society (E, 41). The wedding guest is a crucial figure in the plot as he is the way of confession for the mariner. While at first the wedding guest fears that the mariner is a ghost, the mariner assures the wedding guest that he is a true human, “Be calm, thou wedding guest! ‘Twas not those souls that fled in pain” (A, V, 345 – 346). as the mariner’s story continues, the wedding guest becomes sucked in and cannot make himself leave the mariner. This is because whenever the mariner comes into contact with someone that he needs to tell his story to, he and his subject become powerless but to listen to each other (

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