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Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” fits within the Romantic literary style. In the poem, nature is represented as a powerful and inspiring force that is incomprehensible to humans, who, in comparison to nature, have no power in influencing the world and what eventually occurs. In the dispute about nature in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” there can be two contrasting opinions on the treatment of nature. On the one hand, environmentalists may be concerned with the way nature is treated by humans, while on the other, there is a spiritual perspective that nature is the embodiment of God, with which the Mariner must reconcile.
Nature and Power in the Poem
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” begins with the description of a wedding feast, during which the Mariner decided to tell his remarkable story. The scene then changes to the description of nature where the Mariner is left alone to sail his ship: “the ship was cheered, the harbor cleared, Merrily, did we drop,” which signifies the positive outlook of the mariner on his upcoming adventures (Coleridge 52).
Alone and away from civilization, the Mariner is forced to battle against storms and other dangers of the ocean. A crucial moment to consider in the discussion about the role of nature in the poem is the Mariner killing an albatross (Rumens). Some can link this episode to the human desire to master nature, while for others, this act is spiritual. However, one must agree that nature in the poem has much more power over human beings than human beings have of nature. For instance, nature is so powerful that it forces the Mariner and his sailors to suffer from intense thirst when they remain in desolate waters: “Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink; water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink” (Coleridge 70). This shows that any attempts to become the master of nature are pointless, and the only thing that human beings can do is merely survive.
Spirituality Versus Environmentalism: Should They Be Separated?
With regard to the idea of spirituality in the poem, the author depicts nature as an expression of the spiritual world. The author illustrates the close links between nature and the spirituality in the sequence of unfortunate events that the Mariner has to suffer after killing the albatross (Pham). In the poem, nature is the creation of God; thus, when the Mariner improperly interacts with nature and wants to gain power over it, he also challenges God. Therefore, attempts at harming nature are sins or moral failures since they question the authority and power of God.
In the Christian perspective, sins lead to punishment, and in the poem, the penalty is supernatural – a combination of natural and spiritual, with polar spirits coming to haunt the Mariner and his crew: “And some in dreams assured were of the Spirit that plagued us so; Nine fathom deep he had followed us from the land of mist and snow” (Coleridge 71). Apart from the polar spirits, the Mariner experiences the nightmare of Life-in-Death: “The nightmare Life-in-Death was she, Who thicks man’s blood with cold” (Coleridge part 3). The existence of such supernatural beings in the poem shows that humans should avoid being reckless in their actions and cause harm simply due to their rage.
The punishment is relieved when the Mariner and the seamen learn how to value nature. In the verse where the mariner started appreciating the creation of God: “A spring of life gushed from my heart, and I bless them unaware: Sure my kind saint took pity on me, and I blessed them unaware” there is a clear shift from the unfortunate events that haunted the protagonist (Coleridge 80). The appreciation for nature as the creation of God is the defining factor that alleviates the punishment because the Mariner realizes what he does wrong: “the self-same moment I could pray; and from my neck so free the albatross fell off, and sank like lead inti the sea” (Coleridge 81). The punishment relieves because the Mariner experiences the consequences of his actions and prays for being relieved from the hauntings of the spirits.
Throughout the entire poem, there is a message of appreciation for nature as God’s creation (Joavani 74). The author emphasizes that when human beings take what nature offers without giving back, they are likely to pay for their actions: “twas right, say they, such birds to slay, that brings the fog and mist” (Coleridge 69). In this way, the author wants to say that harming other natural creation of God will bring nothing but fog and mist, which many people associate with darkness and the lack of understanding of what the future holds. One cannot help to think about the resource crisis that the world is experiencing at the moment. People are used to relying on natural resources such as water, oil, minerals; however, they forget that when all of it is gone, the Earth will become impossible to live on (Goldenberg).
One can conclude that nature plays a dual role in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which means that the environmental and spiritual messages should not be opposed to one another. The co-existence of Life-in-Death and polar spirits within the poem shows that the author sees them as integral parts of God’s nature that humans should not overlook to avoid being treated in the same way as the Mariner (Kim 12). Although such supernatural phenomena as polar spirits do not exist in real life, Coleridge used them as metaphors that represent the adverse outcomes of harming the nature.
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Joavani, Loudres. “The Interplay of Faith and Imagination: An Analysis of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” International Journal of Languages, vol. 2, no. 2, 2014, pp. 73-97.
Kim, Paul Chi Hun. The Notion of Nature in Coleridge and Wordsworth from the Perspective of Ecotheology. Thesis, University of Warwick, 2013. UOW, 2013.
Pham, Thomas. “A Beautiful World of Ethereal Places and Ephemeral Wonders.” English102, 2017, Web.
Rumens, Carol. “Poem of the Week: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.” The Guardian, 2009, Web.