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,_ I THE MARINER AND THE ALBATROSS GEORGE WHALLEY For me, I was never so affected with any human Tale. After first reading it, I was totally possessed with it for many days-1 dislike all the miraC'I.llous part of it, but the feelings _of the man under the operation of such scenery dragged me along like Tom Piper's magic whistle.1 JN these words, in a letter to Wordsworth dated January 30, 1801, Charles Lamb spoke of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Some readers continue to echo Mrs. Barbauld's complaints that the poem is improbable and has an inadequate or distasteful moraL But these are mental reservations: poetry of the order of The .Ancie,zt Marine·r does not work its magic· upon the mind alone; and mental afterthoughts are of little use in explaining, least of all in explaining away, the profound spiritual and ~motional effect of this po·em. For every sympathetic reader since · Lamb has been similarly possessed and haunted by The Ancient Mariner. . Lamb's criticism is remarkable in a contemporary. The incisiveness of his comment, however, lies not so much in his sensitivity to the fascination . of the poem as in his immediate recognition of human feeling as being central ~nit. Lamb understood and loved Coleridge, and was never to free himself of the fascination of the man: " 'the rogue has given me potions to make me love him' ";2 " 'tis enough to be within the whiff and wind of his genius, for us not to possess our souls in quiet."3 ·Unfortunately we have not the means of knowing that "provocative and baffling personality" as Lamb did. But a close and sympathetic readi11g of the Rime will bring us much nearer to the essential Coleridge than one would expect in a poem that is professedly "a work of pure imagination." The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is less "a fan tasticall imagination and a drowsie dreame" than "a continued allegory, and a clarke conceit." There is an important letter of Coleridge's which confirms the allegorical interpretation of the poem: "I have often thought, within the last five or six years, that if ever I should feel once again the genial warmth and stir of the poetic impulse, and referred to my own experiences, I should venture on a yet stranger and wilder Allegory than of yore-. ..." It is difficult to see how the missing factor in the comparative could be anything but The Ancient Mariner; and the opinion is confirmed by the associated idea that follows: "that I should allegorize myself,' as a rock with it's summit just raised above·the surface of some Bay or Strait in the Arctic Sea...." 4 Although the lLettcrs of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas (London, 1935), I, 240. 2lbid., I, 185. 8 lbid.~ II, 191. 4 Unpublished Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs' (Ne~ Haven, 1933), II, 262; dated (?)1820. My italics, except the word "allegorize." Coleridge may be think~ ing of his "Allegoric Vision" (The Complete Poetical WorkJ of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. H. Coleridge (Oxford, 1912), II, 1091-6). This prose allegory, written August, 1795, was successively used for an attack on the Church of England, for an attack on the Church of Rome, and in the introduction to A Lay Ser:non: Addressed to the Higher and Middle Classes. In the "Allegoric Vision" Coleridge does not in any sense allegorize himself. 381 382 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY early action of the poem and " the killing of the albatross take place in the Antarctic Sea, the details derive from the literature of Arctic travel,. as Lowes has shown and as Coleridge would certainly remember. I wish to examine the poem (a) to show how and to what extent Coleridge's inner life is revealed in the Rime; and (b) to show that the albatross . was for Coleridge, whether consciously or unconsciously, a symbol with profound personal significance. I The aesthetic and poetic qualities of The Ancient Mariner are impressive. Other. writers have examined in the poem the elements of colour and-drama, the moral, the truth and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 381-398
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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