Medievalism in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner

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      The Romantic tradition of the nineteenth century is characterised by a longing and love for the remote and the distant. Except for Wordsworth, practically all the Romantic poets incorporate medieval elements in their works. Coleridge has turned to the Middle Ages partly because his temperament is attracted by the remote past and its legends, and partly because of what he set out to accomplish in the Lyrical Ballads - to give dramatic truth to incidents and agents of a supernatural kind. The Middle Ages provides Coleridge with themes, setting and atmosphere appropriate to what he wishes to accomplish.

      On the surface, The Ancient Mariner do not embody the medieval atmosphere as for example Christabel does. But it certainly has many medieval elements. First and foremost, the setting is in the distant past. The key-note is struck in the very opening line - "it is an Ancient Mariner". The word 'ancient' immediately brings up associations with the remote past. The medieval note is enhanced in the mention of the ceremonials painted at the beginning. The 'loud bassoon', the 'merry minstrelsy' are obviously a part of a medieval church setting for a wedding. The ship, the masts, the oars, the sails, the pilot, the light house-these are clear indications of the early days of navigation. The sailors are superstitious as people are in the Middle Ages.

      Medieval literature, having been written in a comparatively less advanced age, often dealt with supernatural and superstitious tales. The Ancient Mariner has a great degree of the supernatural. It tells the story of a sailor who comes across a ship with Death and Life-in-Death as its crew. The sailor sees his two hundred companions dying of a curse and a group of angels entering the dead bodies of the sailors. On reaching his own country he hears a loud sound and his ship sinks. There is mention of medieval superstition again and again. In the Middle Ages the numbers three, seven, nine etc., has mysterious associations. The Albatross corries and plays with the sailors for nine days. The Mariner suffers for seven days and nights. The death fires and the burning of the sea with various colours are common superstitions mentioned in the stories of the Middle Ages.

      References to medieval religious beliefs are not absent. The worship of Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, is a part of medieval Christianity. In The Ancient Mariner Mary (Our Lady) is invoked again and again.

To Mary Queen the praise he given!
Heaven's mother send us grace!

      References to angelic spirits, to the guardian saint and the hermit are clear testimony to the medievalism of the poem. People of the Middle Ages are comparatively more religious. They has a strong belief in sin, repentance and penance. The moral theme of the poem is distinctly medieval in spirit, dealing as it does with a sin and curse and penance and redemption.

      The poem is written in ballad form which is popular in the Middle Ages. All Alliteration which is characteristic of old English poetry is quite often used in this poem. Here is just one of many examples of alliteration:

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free...

      Some archaic (old) words have been purposely used by Coleridge to give the poem a medieval atmosphere - for example "eftsoons", "loon", "wist’, "ken" and "sheen".

      The Ancient Mariner has many medieval features. Without the background of medieval piety and superstition, much of the intensity and agony of the Mariner's experience will be lost on us. However, it is not enough to say that the poem throws a door ajar on the vanished life of the Middle Ages. The substance of the poem is not medievalism; medievalism is merely a suitable setting for the exposition of a universal theme - the idea that the best prayer to God consists in loving all the creatures of God.

University Questions

"The Ancient Mariner seems to throw a door ajar on the vanished life of the Middle Ages". Discuss.
The Ancient Mariner shows distinct medieval characteristics in true Romantic tradition. Amplify.

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