Coleridge and "The Ancient Mariner"

COLERIDGE:"...incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural, and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural endeavours should be directed to persons and characters at least supernatural...with this view I wrote the Ancient Mariner. [Coleridge wished to connect the human truth of] "our outward nature" with the "shadows of imagination." [Romantic poetry appeals] "to the imagination rather than to the sense and to the reason as contemplating our inward nature, the working of the passions in their most retired recesses." [By] "exciting our internal emotions," [the poet] "acquires the right and privilege of using time and space as they exist in the imagination, obedient only to the laws which the imagination acts by." "In looking at objects of Nature while I am thinking...I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking for, a symbolic language, for something within me that already and forever exists, that observing anything new. Even when the latter is the case, yet still I have always an obscure feeling as if that new phenomenon were the dim awakening of a forgotten or hidden truth of my inner nature.


    1. wanderer in exile

2. motiveless malignancy

3. Milton's Satan

4. Judas

5. Gratuitous crime

6. Mariner--active or passive (opium connection)

7. poem of primary or secondary imagination

8. Nature of the mariner's universe--reconciliation of opposites

9. role of the frame story

10. Symbolism


PLATO: "Spirits are half-way between god and man. They are envoys and interpreters that ply between heaven and earth, flying upward with our worship...and descending with heavenly answer...they merge both sides into one great whole...the divine will not mingle directly with the human. God is the supreme governor in charge...and in like manner was the government of its [the universe] several regions, for these were all portioned out to be provinces under the surveillance of tutelary [protecting] deities. Over every herd of living creatures...were set a heavenly daemon to be its shepherd. [Pertaining to man]...a god was their shepherd and had charge of them...This is the story of the life of men under Cronus. [Plato goes on to describe how the absence of these daemons caused chaos on earth until man could fend for himself, a task best defined by cultivating of the rational faculty to appreciate and intuit the forms, especially the form of the good--recall philosophy packet one.]

NEO-PLATONIC INFLUENCES IN THE MIDDLE AGES: [To be sure that there was not a single gap in the chain of being from the ONE [form of the good] to the world of sense perception [nominalism-plenitude], the Medieval philosophers "...increased the number of different stages through which the world proceeds forth from the ONE and identified them with the forms of the deities [daemons] in the different religions by all kinds of more or less arbitrary allegories. It was therefore natural in connection with the return of the soul to God, since it must traverse the same stages up [to the form of the good], to claim the support of these lower gods...metaphysics thus degenerated into mythology:






    GODS -- order, unity behind plenitude

HEROES--closer to divine nature, actualizes the soul and leads man to God (god-man myth)

DAEMONS --(matter) power transmitters, serve as ministers to gods, guard the elements of nature, makes natural pheromone obey God Includes may classes-POLAR SPIRITS too.

MAN'S SOUL --plenitude that his its origin in god (unity idea) Soul must strive to participate in this unity as it "frees" itself from matter.


RENAISSANCE THEORIES (BURTON): [daemons] produce miraculous alterations in the air and most wonderful effects...conquer armies, give victories, help, hurt and alter human attempts.

CRITICAL OPINION: "...every individual part of nature is under the immediate guardianship of its especially appointed daemon...material things are controlled immediately by only that lowest order of spirits called irrational daemons. In their capacity of contributing to wholes; even irrational deamons are superior to man, and when allowed to exercise their natural functions undisturbed, they be beneficent--though framed for evil because of their irrationality and proximity to matter. But neither having reason for principle of judgment of their own, they may be commanded by man. Therefore, the wicked magician finds it easy to subvert...and misdirect the normal processes of nature: urged by selfish passion, he compels to his nefarious ends the irrational guardians of created things. From this...the irrational demons emerge utterly depraved and evil."


REFERENCE: LINES 185 ff. TO THE SPECTRE "LIFE-IN-DEATH" (recall the reconciliation of opposites idea.)

Mythologist Robert Graves correlates these lines with theWHITE GODDESS common to all pre-christian mythologies.

NAMES: Alphito = white goddess (Alphiton = pearl barley) (Alphos = white leprosy)

References: [from Apuleius (2nd cent. A.D. Roman writer)] "...all human things be governed by her providence, and that not only all made strong by the governance of her light and godhead, but also things without life...I considered that all bodies in the heavens, the earth, and the seas be by her increasing motions increased, and by her decreasing motions diminished...[after praying to her] I seemed to see the whole figure of her body, bright and mounting out of the sea standing before me...first she had a great abundance of hair, flowing and curling...and in the middle of her forehead was a plain circlet in fashion of a mirror, or resembling the MOON by the light it gave forth, and this was borne up on either side by serpents that seemed to rise from the furrows of the earth and above it were blades of corn set out. [SHE SPEAKS]: "...I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress or governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of the poets divine queen of all that are in Hell, the principal of them that dwell in Heaven, manifested alone and under one form of all the gods and goddesses. At my will, the planets, the wind of the SEAS and the lamentable silences of hell be disposed...I am come to take pity on thy fortune and turbulation."

[from an ancient Irish ballad]:

She steps forward, with YELLOW HAIR,
Beautiful and so gifted;
Her discourse with each man in turn,
Is beautiful, is marvelous,
The heart of each one breaks
With longing and love for her.


Leviticus, Chapter XIV:

The Lord said to Moses, "This is the law for the victim of LEPROSY at the time of his purification. [The priest]...shall order the man to get two live clean BIRDS. The priest shall order him to SLAY one of the birds...the priest shall dip them all in the blood of the bird that was SLAIN, and then sprinkle seven times the man that was to be purified...On the seventh day he shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water and so he will be lean...on the eighth day, he shall take one bushel of fine flower mixed with oil for a cereal offering..."

Revelations, Chapter XII: A great sign will appear in the sky, a WOMAN clothed with the SUN and the MOON under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.


For though she loves only to DESTROY, the Goddess destroys only to QUICKEN. Coleridge's mention of LEPROSY is strangely exact. The whiteness of the Goddess has always been an ambivalent concept. In one sense it is the pleasant whiteness of another it is the horrifying whiteness of a corpse or spectre of leprosy.