The Ancient Mariner: Modern Literary Criticism

Authors cited

Adair Angus Beer Beres Bostetter Brisman Davidson Dyck Ferguson Fruman Knight Lefebure McFarland McGann Miall Modiano Perkins Piaget Sitterson Stallknecht Twitchell Waldoff Warren Whalley Wheeler

Adair, Patricia M., The Waking Dream: A Study of Coleridge's Poetry (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968).

Adair noted that Coleridge's treatment of nature in Part II of the poem "shows that he was quite aware of the danger of linking the natural with the moral world. It is a pantheistic error into which many of his critics have fallen" (p. 60). [to discussion]

Angus, Douglas, "The Theme of Love and Guilt in Coleridge's Three Major Poems," Journal of English and German Philology 59 (October 1960): 655-68. [to discussion]

Ashton, Rosemary, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Oxford: Blackwells, 1996).

"It was during the journey to Malta that Coleridge became fixed on the idea of himself as the ancient mariner of his own creation. Life seemed to be imitating art. He felt himself to be in the clutches of the ghastly figure of his own conjuring which plays a game of dice with Death for possession of the Mariner's soul . . . " (p. 2).

Beer, John, Coleridge's Poetic Intelligence (London: Macmillan, 1977), pp. 145-46. [to discussion]

Beres, David, "A Dream, a Vision, and a Poem: A Psycho-Analytic Study of the Origins of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 32 (1951): 97-116.

Here are two extracts from Beres's paper, showing his focus on Coleridge's mother:

My conclusions about Coleridge's unhappy relationships with his mother, which I have gathered from his writings and his life, do not differ from those of his biographers. I make the point, however, that Coleridge did not permit his hostile feelings to his mother to come to the surface of his conscious mind. He repressed in his unconscious mind his conflicted ambivalent emotions about her, his crying need, his bitter frustration, and his guilt at the hate this must have engendered. His ambivalence was evident in the contradictions of his life. The repressed emotions and conflicts came to consciousness only in distorted and unrecognizable forms. They appeared in his relationships to other persons -- his demands on people, his unrealistic loves and his distressing behaviour towards his wife. They appeared also in the symbolism and imagery of his poetry. (p. 104)

What does the Albatross symbolize? Do not the characteristics of the Albatross apply as well to the mother? Are not both creatures who bring protection and plenty? And after the Mariner kills the Albatross does he not seek justification for his act in the fact that it is no longer a bird of good luck, even as the hungry infant's love of the mother turns to rage and hate the moment that the milk ceases to flow from the breast? The mother in Coleridge's unconscious mind was a person whom he both loved and hated. Is the Albatross the symbol of the ambivalently loved mother? This is the central point of my thesis . . . (p. 105) [to discussion 1; discussion 2]

Bostetter, Edward E., "The Nightmare World of The Ancient Mariner," in K. Coburn, ed., Coleridge: A Collection of Critical Essays, pp. 65-77. [to discussion]

"The Nightmare World of The Ancient Mariner," p. 75.

Brisman, Leslie, "Coleridge and the Supernatural," Studies in Romanticism 21 (Summer 1982): 123-59.

Brisman, from a different perspective, sees the Mariner's appeal to his "kind saints" as a conceptualization that detracts from the truth of his condition. [to discussion]

Davidson, Arnold, in "The Concluding Moral in Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Philological Quarterly 60 (Winter 1981): 87-94. [to discussion]

Davidson would reinstate the moral as an expression of the Mariner's sin of rejection. It is directed to the Wedding Guest who is in danger of committing a similar sin. I argue more specifically that the Mariner's crime is a failure of love.

Dyck, Sara, "Perspective in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'," Studies in English Literature 13 (Autumn 1973): 603.

Dyck makes a similar point: the Mariner "has had some vital experience, the implication of which he can neither understand nor communicate in any other than the terms of conventional piety." [to discussion]

Ferguson, Frances, "Coleridge and the Deluded Reader: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Georgia Review 31 (Fall 1977): 617- 35. [to discussion]

The points made here about the Argument and Gloss were also discussed by Ferguson, but I believe that she has misread Coleridge's intention regarding the Burnet epigraph. Ferguson writes:

Although a number of critics have taken the epigraph as an ironic foil to the progress of the poem, its waverings between belief and self-cautionary gestures are closer to the pattern of the main text than has been acknowledged. For here an assertion of belief dissolves into a discourse on the lack of information, while an assertion of the necessity of belief even from limited information dwindles into the necessity of accepting limitation. (p. 629)

I would suggest that Burnet does not detract from his claim that there is "a greater and a better world." He only notes the difficulty of gaining reliable knowledge about it. [to discussion]

Ferguson, p. 620. [to discussion]

Fruman, Norman, Coleridge, the Damaged Archangel (New York: George Braziller, 1971), pp. 405-406. [to discussion]

Harding, D. W., "The Theme of 'The Ancient Mariner'," Experience into Words (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1974), p. 59.

Harding noticed this -- "The essence of the poem is a private sense of guilt, intense out of all proportion to public rational standards" -- but declined to resort to biographical speculation to explain it. [to discussion]

Knight, G. Wilson, The Starlit Dome: Studies in the Poetry of Vision (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1941), pp. 84-88. [to discussion]

Lefebure, Molly, Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Bondage of Opium (London: Quartet Books, 1977). [to discussion]

McFarland, Thomas, Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 116-19.

"We need not suppose that Coleridge's mother was in fact either a monster, or even, by her own lights and situation, particularly a bad mother. She was, however, very probably somewhat neurotic, for the existence of a neurotic son implies neurotic parents. Her neurosis seems to have expressed itself in a certain coldness of disposition. . . . The anxiety produced in the infant Coleridge by his mother's coldness and inattentiveness was probably not only a source of his lifelong neurotic malaise but also a factor in his failure to develop a strong sense of his own being." (pp. 117-8) [to discussion]

McGann, Jerome J., "The Meaning of the Ancient Mariner," Critical Inquiry 8 (Autumn 1981): 35-67. [to discussion]

McGann argues for the unity of the poem in terms of its promulgation of Coleridge's One Life, or Christian redemptive view, but insists that we view it with skepticism as historically conditioned. McGann underplays the history of the poem's development, however, and claims for the Coleridge of 1797-1798 a conscious purpose in writing the poem consistent with the Coleridge who produced the 1817 version. I argue a different view below.
To put it another way, the unified ideological meaning seen by McGann, in "The Meaning of the Ancient Mariner," is undercut by some irreducible experiential dilemma; the latter is as a-historical as such matters can be. My discussion of guilt and death below suggests how Coleridge transcended his historical conditions in writing at least these aspects of the poem. [to discussion]

Miall, David S., "The Meaning of Dreams: Coleridge's Ambivalence," Studies in Romanticism 21 (Spring 1982): 57-71.

I discuss the question at more length in this paper. [to discussion]

Modiano, Raimonda, "Words and 'Languageless' Meanings: Limits of Expression in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Modern Language Quarterly 38 (March 1977): 40-61. [to discussion]

Modiano, pp. 41, 52. [to discussion 1] [to discussion 2]

Perkins, David, ed., English Romantic Writers (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1967), p. 405. Burnet epigraph, translated from Latin:

I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible things in the universe. But who shall describe for us their families, their ranks, relationships, distinguishing features and functions? What do they do? Where do they live? The human mind has always circled about knowledge of these things, but never attained it. I do not doubt, however, that it is sometimes good to contemplate in the mind, as in a picture, the image of a greater and better world; otherwise the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, may too much contract itself, and wholly sink down to trivial thoughts. But meanwhile we must be vigilant for truth and keep proportion, that we may distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night. [to discussion]

Piaget, Jean, Structuralism, trans. Chaninah Maschler (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, l971), p. 40. [to discussion]

Sitterson, Jr, Joseph C., "'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and Freudian Dream Theory," Papers on Language and Literature 18 (Winter 1982): 17-35.

Sitterson offers a useful critical review of the psychoanalytic literature on the poem. [to discussion]

Stallknecht, Newton P., Strange Seas of Thought (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1958), ch. 5. [to discussion]

Twitchell, James B., The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature (Durham, N. C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1981). [to discussion]

Oddly enough, Twitchell's discussion of The Ancient Mariner and vampire lore does not notice this aspect of the poem.

Waldoff, Leon, "The Quest for Father and Identity in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'," Psychoanalytic Review 58 (1971-1972): 439-53.

Waldoff attributes the meaning of the poem to the absent Father, seeing the Oedipus complex behind the account of the Mariner's journey. My discussion is dependent less on psychoanalytic theory of this kind than on empirical clinical research, which in this instance seems to offer more fruitful lines of inquiry. [to discussion]

Warren, Robert Penn, "A Poem of Pure Imagination," Kenyon Review 8 (Summer 1946):39l-427, rpt. in Selected Essays (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964), pp. 233-50. [to discussion]

Warren, Selected Essays, p. 227. [to discussion]
Warren, p. 215. [to discussion]

Whalley, George, "The Mariner and the Albatross," in K. Coburn, ed., Coleridge: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1967), pp. 32- 50. [to discussion]

Wheeler, K. M., The Creative Mind in Coleridge's Poetry (London: Heinemann, 1980).

Wheeler shows in detail that the Gloss is narrower and more specific than the poem itself: it "streamlines" the narration and, like the l800 Argument, shows a "tone of moral over-determination" (pp. 52, 50). [to discussion]
Wheeler also notes Freud's account of the repetition syndrome, but without relating its appearance in the Mariner to his traumatic experience of death. See Wheeler, p. 178, n. 8. [to discussion]

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