Book | Mariner | Malcolm Guite
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the tale of a traveller and his epic journey, reckless acts, a descent into an earthly hell, rescue, a kind of baptism, the path home, the growth of wisdom and the desire to share that wisdom.
The hero is a sailor, but it may as well be Coleridge himself. The poem is almost a premonition of the ensuing drama of Coleridge’s own life, with his marriage and financial troubles, and his opium addiction.
It is a deeply spiritual poem, echoing Coleridge’s own journey, as he sets off full of hubris and is humbly reduced to prayer before being rescued from near-death by the grace of God.
Some scholars downplay the religious aspect of Coleridge’s life, but Malcolm Guite makes a case for the importance of faith to Coleridge, and his significance as a spiritual writer.
Coleridge celebrated nature as God’s good creation and the enjoyment of it as putting us in touch with a deeper reality. This is a Romantic response to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason which, according to Coleridge, like dissection, kills the thing it explains. But it is also a deeply Christian view of the world.
Coleridge’s holistic vision is encapsulated symbolically in the beginning and end of the poem, when the mariner notes the kirk, the hill and the lighthouse of home, which Guite suggests stand for faith, nature and the life of the mind.
Furthermore, the poem, according to Guite, has much to say about our own times, just as Coleridge thought the ancient literature he so enjoyed had much to say about his.
Guite sees in the lines ‘water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink’ a metaphor for our consumerist society, where we have material abundance but a soul-destroying dislocation from nature and a subsequent crisis of meaning.
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