Mariner: limitations of language

The Mariner's recourse to moral and religious sentiments during his tale seems necessary in order for him to communicate at all; but the disjunction between sentiment and actual experience is poignant. Raimonda Modiano has analyzed the disjunction in terms of the deficiencies of language itself. She points out that there is a language of direct, mainly sensory reference in the Mariner's narrative, and a language of orthodox reference that tends to construe the experience in familiar moral terms for the benefit of the Wedding Guest, particularly following the moments when the Wedding Guest intervenes with expressions of horror or fear. Thus the narrative is not an objective account of the Mariner's experiences, but one which is accommodated to its auditor. It is, says Modiano, "a later version of that voyage told by an old and lonely man who can neither explain nor fully describe what happened to him on a 'wide wide sea'" (232) Having borrowed his terms of description from the Wedding Guest's world in order to make himself understood to his listener, the Mariner soon begins to confuse it with his own world, and in the end he identifies himself completely with the public values represented by his auditor" (Modiano; cf. Dyck). Thus he explains the sounds of the spirits that re-animated the sailors in terms of skylarks, and the sails in terms of a brook in a woods, a series of comparisons far removed from the reality of an experience on an ocean devoid of birds or woodlands. A similar domestication of the Mariner's state is made through his later appeal to the kirk full of people, praying to the God who "made and loveth all" (617). In this way the Mariner is distanced from his own experience; the retelling fails to resolve his sense of disturbance as a result, and must be attempted ever anew.

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