Style and Technique in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner

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      The Ancient Mariner is a perfect illustration of the influence of imagination upon the natural gift of terse and direct description. With a lucidity which is the outcome of reasoned conviction, Coleridge establishes the true connection between meter and language. Metre is the appropriate garment for a diction essentially different from the ordinary language of prose. In clothing simple, and often baldly simple language with metre, Wordsworth could not escape from the formation of an individual poetic style. But Coleridge, working with a firmer grasp of critical principles, and choosing subjects which might excuse the employment of highly coloured and unfamiliar language, is actually as simple in his diction as Wordsworth. If the connection between the incidents of The Ancient Mariner is not always clear, the style in which they are told is as clear and succinct as any prose narrative.

      Outcome of Imagination. The poem is a series of pictures drawn with a masterly economy of material. Coleridge describes what he sees with the eye of imagination, suppressing everything which would tend to impair or obscure the reality of vision. The quickness and vividness of Coleridge’s imagination, identifying: itself with The Ancient Mariner as he tells his tale, conjured up scenes of which every detail was as visible as though it lay before his eyes. Its dramatic power gave life and movement to the objects which it creats and combines: one after another, it touches them briefly and sufficiently, communicating its magic to each simple word, and clothing them in a meter delicately sensitive to its least demand. It was this influence of imagination over ordinary language and its capacity for evoking the highest music out of the simplest substance that the poetry of the eighteenth century, with its obedience to mechanical laws of fashion, Ips lost.

      Melody and Music. The greatest merit of the poem is that it is delightfully melodious. This poem proves that Coleridge is a lover of musical sound. He has employed here almost all the tricks of musical skill: alliteration, repetition of words, medieval rhymes and onomatopoeia. Here is an example:

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew.
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

      In the above stanza, the second line is a beautiful illustration of alliteration. The repetition of the sounds of 'f', 'b' and 's' is noteworthy. The first line and third line also show the medial rhyme e.g., 'flew', 'blew' 'First' and 'burst'.

Alone, alone, all all alone
Alone, on a wide, wide sea,

      The repetition here is employed for the sake of emphasis. Another aim of repetition is to deepen the melody of the verse, e.g.,

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down;
'Twas as sad as sad could be.

      Now we take examples of onomatopoeia, i.e., words with sounds conveying sense. For instance, talking of the ice in the Polar region he says:

It cracked and growled
And roared and howled,
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump
The crew dropped down one by one

      Imagery. Now we take the use of figures by Coleridge. He freely uses similes and metaphors. The storm, for instance, is compared to an enemy and the ship, the victim of that enemy. Again,

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

      The above lines give us another striking simile to describe the stage of mind of The Ancient Mariner. It also reflects the poet's study of human psychology.

      Economy of Words and Suggestiveness. Another noteworthy point regarding this poem is that it has not only got a great number of pictures. Both of matter and manner, but also the masterly economy of words with which those pictures have been drawn. Coleridge's suggestiveness is unique indeed. He will never paint horror and mystery to build his supernaturalism as his contemporaries did. Towards the close of The Ancient Mariner, the poet wishes to tell us how horrifying the Mariner's face has appeared. He do not describe the face itself; he simply describes the effect of the face upon the pilot's mind

I moved my lips-the pilot shrieked
And fell down in a fit.
We are left to imagine what kind of face it was.

      Simplicity and Directness. Coleridge utilises some of the stylistic elements of the popular ballad in order to attain the effects of simplicity and directness having "the eye on the object'. "Coleridge... is deeply interested in the English and Scottish popular ballads. Nothing in the poem is more remarkable than his transmutation of their rude measures, as he knows them, into a music the like of which have never been heard before. The vigorous directness of their plain and home spun phraseology has left its mark upon the poem." Coleridge's distinction lies in the perfection of his handling of metrical language. Whether it is a matter of communicating the awed silence of the crew or a matter of describing the sun as it shone weirdly through the skeleton-ship or a question of expressing the divine music of the angels - Coleridge can tackle it with assured mastery: he knows the secret of attaining the accord of the diction with the unity of impression, which the whole is intended to produce. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is fully justified in remarking on the rare perfection of the poem:... "after more than a hundred years, The Ancient Mariner is the wild thing of wonder, captured star... Its music is as effortless as its imagery. Its words do not cumber it: exquisite words come to it, but it uses and straight away forgets them. Not Shakespeare himself, unless by snatches, so sublimated the lyrical tongue, or is obtained effects so magical by the barest necessary means... throughout, from the picture of the bride entering the hall to that of the home coming in the moon-lit harbour, every scene in the procession belongs to high romance, yet each is conjured up with that economy of touch which we want to call classical."

University Questions

Write a note on Coleridge's stylistic devices in The Ancient Mariner.
Discuss the technical beauties of The Ancient Mariner.

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