The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: A Modern Reading
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a seven part epic poem which was published in a collaboration with William Wordsworth entitled Lyrical Ballads. The work has many possible themes and interpretations, but a more modern reading of the work could be that the poem is an allegory for mankind’s reckless treatment of wildlife as a whole and the negative consequences of such treatment.
The Mariner in the story could represent a modern-day poacher, and his murder of the albatross could also reflect man’s reckless destruction of the earth as a whole. Following this, when the curse begins to take effect and nature literally stops aiding the sailors on their voyage by the disappearance of the wind and tide, stopping the ship in its tracks, the mariner and his men find themselve stranded on the ocean with nothing to drink until, at one point, they are forced to bite themselves and drink their own blood in order to quench their thirst enough to be able to speak (638). These events reflect the consequences of man’s abuse of nature (exploiting natural resources, over-hunting animals, using fossil-fuels, etc.), which has already affected us in return (the holes in the ozone layer, rising global temperatures, melting icecaps, climbing sea levels, etc.)
It is only when the Mariner learns to appreciate the sea snakes that he sees in the oceans and even feels a bit of solidarity with those ”thousand thousand slimy things,” because they ”liv’d on; and so did I,” (i.e. he realized that they were both living creatures, no matter how different, which coexisted)(640) that the curse is lifted and he is allowed to return to his homeland. By extension, it is only when humans begin to take notice of what we have in nature and take the necessary steps to preserve it, that we will slow the negative effects of our damaged ecosystem.
In many ways, the Mariner’s permanent punishment can be interpreted as a crusade to promote environmental awareness and a newfound respect for wildlife; “He prayeth best, who loveth best/ All things both great and small; / For the dear God who loveth us, / He made and loveth all” ( 649).
Damrosh, David, Kevin Dettmar, et al. Longman Anthology of British Literature: The Romantic Period. 5. 2A-C. Boston: Longman, 2011. Print.