The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner: Religious Allusions

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‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ misleadingly appears to be about respecting God’s love and His love for all creation, but the sense of hopelessness in this poem does not compliment the Gospel message. Granted this poem could not have been written if Samuel Taylor Coleridge lacked a biblical perspective, but this piece still falls short in delivering the gospel’s message of hope. The Mariner speaks much of God, angels, spirits, and even love, but ultimately his tragic tale leaves the Wedding Guest feeling depressed and hopeless. Despite the Christian influence, the God presented in this poem seems to be representing nature, and the protagonist resembles a devil more than a man.

Nature refers to this world and all that lives here, and since the world is in a fallen state people should not place their hope in this world before God. The symbolism in this poem and the tone of hopelessness is inspired by the author’s personal demons, and his struggle with depression. While seemingly forgetting the promises of his first Love, Coleridge had an affair with despair, and became obsessed with the hopelessness of the world. He felt constantly convicted by his sin because of his Christian faith, yet he struggled to forgive himself, and accept God’s forgiveness. Although Coleridge strived to hold firmly onto his faith and was even seen as a ‘radical in religion'[1] he was a very lonely person.[2] In 1791 when he was attending Jesus College, Cambridge, ‘he fell into idleness, dissoluteness, and debt’, and naturally he was in deep despair.[3] He dealt with a ‘profound sense of guilt and a need for public expiation.'[4] There is no doubt that his personal condemnation was also connected to his struggle with drug addiction, a problem that had ‘sapped his strength and will…'[5] In recognizing the writer’s personal battle readers should better understand why the poem fails at complimenting a biblical perspective. The sadness that the Wedding Guest is left with upon hearing the Mariner’s tragic tale does not go in hand with the message of hope one should find in the Gospel of Christ.[6] Several years after writing this poem Coleridge had fallen so far that he was utterly broken, ‘suffering from agonies of remorse, and subject to terrifying nightmares of guilt and despair from which his own shrieks awakened him.'[7] He was compelled by the lies of an enemy that often seemed sympathetic towards his struggles, and who provided him with particular truths so as to keep his focus away from the ultimate truth.

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Readers are better able to understand the tone of the poem upon knowing how Coleridge had one foot in the world and the other in the church. When the Mariner speaks of the Albatross flying out of the fog, ‘as if it had been a Christian soul,’ whom his shipmates greeted in ‘God’s name,'[8] this shows how initially they had hope because of their Christian faith. The Albatross was seen as a good omen sent from God,[9] bringing good luck to those on the ship, but ultimately the Albatross was intended to represent the fickle grace of nature. This grace proved no match for the vengeance of nature. When the Mariner tells the Wedding Guest how he had killed the Albatross with a crossbow, for apparently no good reason,[10] readers may assume this ignorant act represents the disrespect mankind often shows towards nature. (The killing of the Albatross, who represented the only sign of hope, was likely inspired by the author’s addiction to self-sabotage.) The consequence of killing the Albatross is the righteous judgment of nature against the Mariner, and his shipmates suffered as a result of his selfish act as well.[11] When the Mariner tells of his shipmates hanging the dead Albatross around his neck ‘instead of the cross’, the death of this innocent represents the murder of the gracious personification of nature.[12] The underlying truth is that the hanging of the Albatross around his neck signifies how the cross is a constant reminder to the devil of his judgment.

The deathly appearance of the Mariner represents the great judgment he has suffered as a result of this sin he carries.[13] His appearance combined with his tragic story influences the Wedding Guest into holding onto his own guilt and shame, and feeds the belief that there is no hope. The message of Christ forgiving the sins of His children seems to be a concept the Mariner had lost hope for, thus his appearance clearly doesn’t represent new life. The Mariner’s appearance is purposely in contrast to what the wedding represents. Upon first recognizing the setting at the beginning of this poem the Christian may think on how Christ is the Bridegroom and the faithful are his bride. A wedding is a wonderful event representing new life, and a better life. It’s interesting how the Mariner decides to share his tragic tale with the Wedding Guest, but when considering the true premise of the poem the setting is appropriate. The reason the Mariner’s ghastly appearance leaves the Wedding Guest so shaken is because his very presence is destroying the hopeful illusion of the wedding.[14] The poem makes clear how the sea is frightening and chaotic, much like how the author viewed life, believing any hope in life is an illusion. For those who fall away from the Lord they become very much like the Mariner, as the world proves to be both destructive to their spirit and body. Without Christ, the bridegroom, all hope is lost. The Mariner’s horrific appearance is the embodiment of all that the sea represents, this being the true essence of the fallen world and his fallen state.

The Mariner’s story indicates how he had desperately sought for signs from God during his suffering out at sea, but perhaps his true reason for sharing this tale is more sinister in nature. There is mention of him trying to pray, but it’s interesting how he describes hearing a “wicked whisper” that made his “heart as dry as dust.”[15] Later he tells the Wedding Guest how he was so lonely “that God himself scarce seemed there to be.”[16] When reading this poem the faithful readers should remember how the enemy twists the truth as he seeks to steal their hope (John: 10:10). Since the Mariner was starving and dehydrated readers may assume he hallucinated much of what he witnessed. The two spirits he heard were likely personifications of his self-condemnation formed in his subconscious.[17] His frightening experience is shared in light of a preternatural world along with a Christian worldview, for in his desperate and confused state it was through his faith that he tried to find meaning in his circumstances. Faith without love leaves a person feeling like “nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2), and this is why the Mariner’s tale leaves the Wedding Guest so depressed. The Mariner is seen as being a devil, moreover what he does to the spirit of the Wedding Guest truly is the work of the devil.[18] What’s been established here is that the Mariner seemed unable to fully grasp the love of God, and thus he did not believe in His grace. When he sought after forgiveness, from a holy hermit, he was unable to receive peace because his faith in a God of love had been diminished.[19] In his conclusion he lectures on the need to love both man and animal, and then he speaks of God’s love for all, but by this point the Wedding Guest has been brainwashed by his tale.[20] The Mariner intentionally had the fluent tone of hopelessness throughout his story to shadow over the unscrupulous message of God’s love in his conclusion. Like a bitter devil the Mariner proved successful in corrupting the truth of God’s love, and ultimately the Wedding Guest is left sharing in his state of hopelessness.

Christ is the bridegroom and he is our only hope in a hopeless world. Any message capable of inspiring someone to turn their back on this hope fails to complement a biblical perspective. The Mariner represents a bitter and depressed devil who is seeking company. The Wedding Guest represents the author who frequently allowed the lies of the devil to take his hope. The hope of Christ coming back for his bride is unsupported by “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, and with hope lost the Wedding Guest “turned from the bridegroom’s door.


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