The Rime of our Life

viaggio3

“A wiser and sadder man, he rose the morrow morn”….”wiser and sadder”, these two words mark the passage of the young  Wedding Guest of Coleridge’s “Rime to the Ancient Mariner” into the world of adulthood, the bitter age of experience, as Blake would call it, and this is because of a weird story told by a mysterious man, an Ancient Mariner. The narration seems to have affected  the mind of the young man so much, that in the end he falters just like one who “hath been stunned” and “is of sense forlon”. He forgets about the allure of the wedding party he had so much longed to go and proceeds back  home, where after a sound sleep,  he wakes up the following day a completely new type of person: “a wiser and sadder man”, in fact. It must have been a very powerful story indeed to produce such a reaction, even if at first glance it seems only the narration of a voyage with a lot of incidents, in a magic atmosphere, with some  religious symbolism scattered here and there. So, what had the Wedding Guest understood between the lines of the story?

viaggio12First of all why Coleridge had named his young character, Wedding Guest, rather than, I don’t know….The Student, The Lover or other stereotypes we are familiar with. What is the category of the Wedding Guest Like?  What does a Wedding Guest do? Well, I guess a Wedding Guest loves parties, noise, people. He enjoys a life focused mostly on relations, symbolized by the wedding party itself and on the rites that those relations share: food, drink, music, good conversation etc. .He actually enjoys the feast of life and somehow he believes that this is what really matters. And he is young. His youth makes him arrogant, hence he despises the man who had dared stop him just to tell a ghastly story, because he is old, nay more than old: ancient.

viaggio10The generational gap between the two would be unbridgeable but for the supernatural powers the old mariner is endowed with, which help him win the will of the young man, who, from then on, will listen to the story willy-nilly like a “three-year child”. Then the old man will use all his mastery to create that “suspension of disbelief” he needs to catch the heart of the Wedding Guest.Therefore, a gallery of extraordinary characters and events takes form : an unexpected, destructive tempest, a heavenly albatross, tremendous cold and then unbearable heat,the appalling ghosts of Death and Life in Death, crawling snakes, zombies, a mysterious hermit, only to mention the most important ones. It is the story of a voyage, and what is a voyage but the most explicit metaphor of life? The old mariner wants to open the young man’s eyes to make him understand that life will be far from being a never-ending party, an incessant whirl of joyous emotions, as rubs and bitter disappointments will be always behind the corner.

viaggio13The first part of the ballad focuses on the narration of the first days of the mariner’s voyage, when he was just like the Wedding Guest, and somehow it can be considered a metaphor of youth. When you are young, you look forward to hoisting your sails and begin your journey. At first you start to glide on the tranquil waters near the harbour with all the cheerfulness  and thoughtfulness typical of innocence. As the winds start to make your boat move and you see all the familiar places far away, the adrenaline and the excitement grow .You finally feel free to experience the world and you are confident enough to believe that you will always be able to drive your boat exactly where you want. You are so sure that life will always be an exciting, marvellous adventure, that your first, unavoidable tempest will catch you by surprise and fear and wonder will overwhelm you.Before realizing what to do, you’ll find yourself in strange, unfamiliar places, far away from where you had expected to be.

viaggio14The ship of the Ancient Mariner, in fact, is driven by the blasts of a tremendous storm to the South Pole. The sudden mist that surrounds the sailor and his crew is the symbol of their disorientation, so that when huge icebergs come floating by – when you are Young your first obstacles always seem enormous and insurmountable – terror paralyzes their mind. Experience  teaches that somehow there is always a way out, especially if you manage to find the right determination to take advantage of favourable circumstances that could be both of a natural or spiritual kind. The spirituality is represented here by the coming of the Albatross, that with its presence soothes the profound solitude of the inhabitants of the ship, who see it as sign of good omen as, since its arrival, a “good wind” has started to spring. A natural helping hand which pushes the ship northward, back home.Maybe.

Typical of youth is a certain lightness of behaviour, you live for the present and you don’t think about the future consequences of your actions. Everything seems to be for granted, so when the danger of the tempest is soon forgotten and you start to sail in more tranquil waters, that shallow and arrogant traits of that age start to surface again. So the Mariner narrates to have killed one day that Albatross, that bird which had swept away the fog of their confusion and fear, giving them the comfort of hope. He did that with no apparent reason. He was a kind of…bored.
viaggio8When you are young, the making of connections is very important. They very often become more influential and trustworthy than the family itself. Being part of a community of friends makes you feel safe and accepted, but what happens when, for some reasons, you find yourself out of it? In the case of the Mariner, the Killing of the albatross places him in a condition of seclusion and solitude. He has to face the reactions of his world of connections, here symbolized by the crew. At first, the crew condemn the action the mariner as they believe that “it made the breeze to blow”, but as soon as they see the sun rise after so many days of wondrous cold, they “all averred, he had killed the bird that brought the fog and mist”. Human nature is mutable and the mariner wants the Wedding Guest to be fully aware of that, before it is too late. He must learn to rely on himself and not on people, because if things go wrong, he will pay for all and will be let alone. In fact, when they find themselves stuck in the middle of the ocean “under a hot and copper sky”, with no water to drink and their tongues “withered at the root”, the blame falls on the Mariner alone. He becomes the only scapegoat and those, who used to be his friends,hang about his neck the dead body of the albatross as stigma.

viaggio11The crew had condemned the ominous consequences the action of the Ancient Mariner had had on them, rather than its moral implications, that’s why all the sailors are punished and die, as the ghost of Death will win them all in a game of dice with the only exception of the Ancient Mariner, who will be left in the power of the other frightening ghost: Life in Death. It is the death of his youthful innocence and the beginning of a new, tiring journey that will make him grow a new awareness on the meaning and the repercussions of his actions. It will take him a long time, a time made of prayers and expiation that covers more than the half of the whole ballad, till he succeeds in going back to where he had started, but he won’t be the same person again. He couldn’t. This is what happens when we become adult, experience makes us wiser but sadder at the same time, as we grow more aware of the world that surrounds us. Then, one day, we may become parents or teachers, “modern” Ancient Mariners, willing to help our Wedding Guests in their progress to maturity.

43 thoughts on “The Rime of our Life

      • I really liked “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” because it expresses exactly the two types of people and times that exist. There is a time when we are wedding guests and a time when people grow and become ancient mariner. People are different: there are those who are innocent and those who have experience and are wise. It is the duty of the wise to teach young people not to be innocent. But it is necessary to say that not all people when grow up become ancient mariner because they do not live enough experiences to understand the meaning of life or don’t understand what happens to them. I believe it is lucky to become Ancient Mariner because you understand the meaning of life even by reflecting too much or feeling bad, because you are too aware of everything that happens. It is nice to live in innocence as the wedding guest, but it is even more so by understanding life as the ancient mariner.

  1. Great story dear Stefy, I know this as in the ’80s & ’90s I was freaky for the Iron Maiden (though, I love them still 🙂 ) they made a wonderful song as you might like it a little bit heavy 😂 Thank you ❤

  2. Excellent analysis of a most excellent poem! One of my all time favorites. I always read it to my older grandson at Halloween.
    “Like one upon 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.”
    Perfect scary Halloween verse when said to effect. 😂

    • Oh, yes indeed. I have to tell you that I do enjoy reading the Rime in class. Particularly the third part, soon after the game of dice between Death and Life in Death. Just brilliant.

  3. So many things come to mind when reading about “The Rime”. I remember not liking it when explained in class, at first. I also remember the the explanation focusing only some key stanzas of the poem, being it very long and narrative. I also had the impression that you, Prof, did not like it in its entirety, but rather only the bits you picked for us to work on and discuss.

    However I do remember changing my mind about it and coming to really appreciate is at as a whole later on (perhaps thanks to the Iron Maiden song as well, as it’s been pointed out already).
    Nonetheless, I have always been intrigued (since high school) by the contrast, or should I say relationship between the Ancient Mariner and the Wedding Guest, as you just pointed out in your post.
    It could be because I can very much relate with the Wedding Guest himself, being in that age of transition from “young manhood” into adulthood, these expression and emotions “wiser and sadder” truly describe well what goes on during this time. As a teenager you only get some of the meaning of Coleridge’s description of the Guest after having heard the Mariner’s story. You can try and relate to him or rather you try and imagine what it means. You do understand the Guest’s feelings, but you have not necessarily lived them yet. Not completely, at least, and that completely changes your perspective when reading it again later on in life.

    As brilliantly pointed out in the post, the whole story told by the Mariner acquires a completely different taste and meaning, as the reader can more easily understand the metaphors he is describing in his narrative.

    It is indeed true that growing up brings wisdom and more understanding, and unfortunately many times a deeper understanding of the world brings inevitable sadness. Coleridge’s message is so clear and he gives every reader such a powerful warning. I can imagine him writing the Rime in that precise state of bitter sadness, perhaps going back to these episodes “of experience” that brought him into adulthood, those moments that hardened him but gave him wisdom in exchange.

    For me this aspect is even more fascinating and it goes on with all art, not only literature. Understanding what brought him to write the Rime, what age he was, what stage of his life he was in and what he was going through. It puts everything into an even deeper context and empowers his message even more.

    It is true that coming of age is a trade of Innocence for Experience, and experience gives us wisdom which automatically leads to a sense of sadness.
    I think that sadness is inevitable at first, as it is our natural reaction, our way to “harden up”. What Coleridge did not include in his poem is that after that initial sadness we are always left with a choice. The Guest wakes up the following day in his bed. He is sad, he needs to go through it, but he does have a choice. And that is the choice of happiness. You can still choose happiness in your “grimmer” view of the world.

    Perhaps it takes an even deeper wisdom.

    • Lovely comment, which deseved a prompter reply, but I am super busy this time of the year as you may well guess, so I hope you will apologize me. Coleridge is by no means one of my favourite poets, but I am not surprised by the fact that I was not able to trasmit this ” passion” of mine to you. Think well about the atmosphere of that year and, let’s say, its many “changes”; I think that no-one of us gave their best on that occasion, which is a shame, because you were a very good class.
      Still in my heart, nevertheless.
      😉

  4. Pingback: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – lampmagician

  5. I’d forgotten that I had your post in my to-read queue until just now, and pulled it out because, as part of my year-long salute to Melville, I read Coleridge’s poem last night. Everything you wrote here jibes with my sense of the poem (although I had to add that the sing-song rhythm quickly grew tiresome for me). I’m glad you’ve been able to introduce your students to this classic more successfully than did my high school literature teacher to me and my classmates (50 years ago!).

    BTW, you might enjoy Poe’s story, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, which you can read online at https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Narrative_of_Arthur_Gordon_Pym. It’s even weirder than Coleridge’s poem.

  6. I really enjoyed the rime of the ancient mariner, I found myself in the figure of the wedding guest, because I like to have fun and go party with my friends, and I always feel like I never want to stop the party. I understood the meanings of this ballad well, even though I am still young, I can see the difference of my “innocence” when I was younger and my “experience” now. I could say that I am facing this thought of growing up and understanding the world almost every day in view of my seventeenth birthday. As I became older I understood more and more the value of the actions I have done in the past and above all, now I understand that my future will depend on what I do now and what I do day by day. Like what is written in the post I also understood the value of friendships, since the beginning of the new year, I am very satisfied to have found friends who always remain friends, if I act good towards them, or rarely badly, and if I act bad and I make a mistake, they are all available to make me understand where I went wrong.

  7. I fully agree with everything is written here. When we are young, we act in a stubborn and too confident way because we want to convince everybody that we always know what to do, we show too much self-confidence. Personally, sometimes I tent to be like the Wedding Guest, not because I am an arrogant person, but just because I want to be able to do as many things as possible by myself, and I want my parents to be proud of me. For example, I love cooking, and every time (when I say every time I mean REALLY EVERY TIME) I don’t want my mother or my father to stay next to me and help me. Even if I know they are there to help me and they are proud of my passion, sometimes my stubborn side seems to overflow my reasonable side, and so I get angry. I know this type of behaviour is toxic, in facts my first goal is to stop acting in this way, even if I do this only few times.

  8. I think the Ancient Mariner has a lot to teach us: first of all, it’s unbelievable how a small insignificant action, can have enormous consequences both negative and positive.
    Furthermore, it’s incredibile how people react to your actions, they’re always ready to criticize you, attack you and isolate you, or doing the exact opposite.
    In the end, even when you’re young, you should always think before acting, because the outcomes are unknown and you can ruin your life.

  9. Ok…so, life can be divided into two parts: before the trip and after the trip, Wedding guest v/s Ancient mariner, innocence and experience, according to Blake. I fully agree! At some point we move from the wedding guest lifestyle, surely a young and shallow man, to that of the Ancient mariner, an older and reasonable man. If the journey told by Coleridge is a metaphor of life thus, at some point, all of us have to change our lifestyle and become aware. The question that comes to my mind now is another: When does this transition take place? Does it happen to everyone and, if so, it happens at the same time? And how do we notice it? Certainly, according to Blake, these two worlds were not connected to age, this passage takes place at different times according to the person. In this I agree with Blake, the transition to experience can happen at different ages, but it must be. A person has necessarily to pass into the world of experience sooner or later.

    In the wedding guest case, the change was direct and rather rapid: thanks to the story of an Ancient mariner, the day after he became “A wiser and sadder man”. In “real life” I think this change happens slower and step by step. Surely, we won’t meet an “Ancient mariner” who brings us to the other side. We meet adults who are already passed on the other side. They can give us small things every day, to make us understand what the second part of our life consists of. It is then up to us to listen to these suggestions that perhaps in the immediate future may seem distant and incomprehensible to us but which will surely help and comfort us in the future.

  10. The role of the ancient mariner is important because it makes the wedding guest aware of the existence of evil. The world is not only made up of parties, food, love and friends, but also of dangers that cannot be overcome without due preparation, and sometimes you have to be careful of who you considered your friend. The transition from the world of innocence to the world of experience is delicate and important, and without the presence of the ancient mariner (that is, our parents, teachers ..) it can be difficult and problematic. Joining in the world of experience makes you sadder because you become aware of how bad and evil there is in that world that you previously thought was perfect and beautiful. But awareness also makes you stronger, so strong as to survive.

  11. It is clear that boldness and arrogance are part of teenagers’ life, but the difficult part is understanding how far it is right to follow your instincts or follow the advice of those who have more experience than us young people. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” makes us understand that if the wiser person is able to give an interest in the story of his experience, it will be easier to involve the other so that he can understand the right balance.
    Even before reading Blake, I always believed that the way of transmitting the experience was more important than the experience itself, because unfortunately young people only hear the things that interest them. To sum up, we can say that the best educator is the one who manages to convey the message clearly and interestingly to the teenager but, in any case, it is up to him to catch it or not.

  12. In my opinion, in some ways we all are Wedding Guests; from people our age to adults. Some adults are even more wedding guests than teenagers are. Something has to change in our lives to pass the stage of our lives of Wedding Guests, whatever kind of event that goes from a story -like in the case of The Rime of the Ancien Mariner- to a personal event. Honestly, I know some adults that are more Wedding Guests than some of my friends.

  13. in my opinion, we all live in a constant “wedding guest” state, in which we do not think much about the actions we do, and above all we have no idea of ​​the repercussions that those actions can have. To evolve, there is a need to greater awareness, to begin to reason before acting, to understand situations; this is precisely the passage that each of us, who before or who after, must face in order to mature.

  14. I believe we all have a “wedding guest” state in life. It is our adolescence, in which everyone is more confident, and lessa scared of life, careless I’d say. When you become an adult, when you get in the “Ancient Mariner” state, you start thinking, you understand all the experiences that you’ve done while beeing a teenager. All the things you couldn’t understand as a teenager becomes clear, and sometimes you regret many things you’ve done, exactly because you were in a “wedding guest” state. Anyways not everyone pass the “wedding guest” state, in fact there are many people behave like they are 19 when they are 30.

  15. I agree with what has been said and I think the role of the sailor is very important because it opens the wedding guest’s eyes about life. In fact, it makes him understand that life is not only a party, food and entertainment, but there is also evil and there are also people we cannot trust.

  16. In my opinion, we can all meet at the “wedding guest”. This is because many times during our lifetime we commit actions without paying too much attention to the repercussions of these. Thus hurting people around us. So how can you avoid it? I think it can’t be done, because only by mistake can we learn not to make the same mistakes again.

  17. In my opinion, we can all meet at the “wedding guest”. This is because many times during our lifetime we commit actions without paying too much attention to the repercussions of these. Thus hurting people around us. So how can you avoid it? I think it can’t be done, because only by mistake can we learn not to make the same mistakes again.

  18. I think The Ancient Mariner is a mind opening narration: it explains the true power of human actions, and how people and life react to these events. Once, one of my elementary school teacher told me a story which happened in her life when she was with with her son. He was so wild and he always played near the coke oven, and pretending to touch the door, just for fun, and everytime my teacher put his hand away telling him to be careful, but he never listened. So, one day, when the oven was a little more than warm, I would say hot, and my teacher wasn’t looking, he touched it. He yelled with pain, obviously he got burned and today he still has the scar of that event.Well, I am telling this, because it is very similar to the story of the Ancient Mariner…something done in youth may have terrible consequences on our future life, but when we are young we don’t understand as much as today the consequences of our action. Fortunately most of people learn something from these events, while a minority doesn’t learn and still commits the same exact error.
    It happens because of the innocence, which is in my opinion only the absence of the knowledge, or in general the lack of experience, which unfortunately (the experience) let us see the world just like other people teach us to.. everybody is born just like a white page, and everything or everybody we see or meet or date or talk or listen, put something on this page, so it means that everybody is only the union of hundred of thousand even million of different ways of think and so of million of different experience..
    But sadly we also have to add to all of this: the presence of the unknown suxcession of events which is almost unpredictable and because of so, we don’t have a tutorial about how to pass all this casual situation, and only our common sense and good quantity of knowledge and experience, let us do the right choice, which is basically the choice that gives everybody the best conseguences.

  19. This story carries my mind to the real life. I think that all of us, when we are young, have one or more figures like the ancient mariner that help us grow and learn by experiences. In fact, now, I feel like the wedding guest. I think I am in the age of “Innocence”, maybe briefly, and I know perfectly that I needed, and I still need the help of my parents who are, like the mariner, in the age of experience.

  20. I think that the figure of the Ancient Mariner is fundamental in the life of every young Wedding Guest, to help us open our eyes to reality, which in the youth are clouded by unconsciousness. For this we need adult people next to us like our parents and professors who guide us and show us the way to a different maturity, and at the end of our journey we are inevitably different people from those we were at the beginning, certainly wiser and aware and inevitably even sadder.

  21. This story struck me a lot. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is an effective metaphor of life. At first we can identify ourselves with the “wedding guest”; but with the arrival of adulthood, thanks to the real experiences of life, we become aware that life is certainly something extraordinary but it is also very hard, arduous and tiring. The experience of those who have preceeded us and of those who educate us and are close to us, is a precious gift from which we understand a teaching.

  22. I agree with what is written in the post. As children we act impulsively thinking we always know what to do, but in reality we know nothing. In our help there are parents who are always close to us to help us, but by not understanding it we tend to distance them, always because we believe we can handle it. In life we ​​never stop learning and improving, our parents can learn a lot too, let alone us with a few years of life.

  23. l’m agree with your interpretation of the Rime about the characters of the Ancient Mariner and Wedding Guest. This reading is a little in contrast with Blake’s “innocence and experience”. The life is a journey. In fact journey is a typical metaphor of life used by poets. For example, I just remember Il porto sepolto by Giuseppe Ungaretti. I’d focus my reply on the meaning of actions of fellow mariners. The ship’s crew are incostant amount of people suffering events kindly offered by our life. They are inept and unstable about choices and positions. They follow idols, they say to love, they despise for the sake of despising, in short they live the life of someone else. They don’t think. Too difficult. Too tiring. If they once think something, their thoughts are already packaged, these ones are only mechanical repetitions of mental efforts of others . The crew are a group of lobotomized Wedding Guests. Thus Coleridge (through the Ghost of Death) punishes them for their indolence such as Dante Alighieri, in the first canticle of his poem (the Hell), condemns slothful people to an horrible punishment. This ballad is a creepy, melancholic hymn to the reflection and to the spirituality against the most spread slothfulness and superficiality.

  24. I really liked the story told by Coleridge and above of all the meaning behind it.
    It’s right to divide two main phases of our life “the wedding guest” and the “ancient mariner” respectively youth and maturity. When you are young you feel invincible and at the same time every problem seems very difficult.
    When you grow up, instead, i think that you acquire maturity and an awareness of what surrounds us.
    You enrich yourself with experience so as to be able to consider each situation more carefully , without being impulsive.
    The mariner’s course is the development of each us.
    In my opinion this trip is individual, although there will always be people next to you ready to help and guide you in the right way.

  25. I liked “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” so much. I think that all the ballad represents the metaphor of our lives. You are right, the Ancient Mariner wants to open the eyes of the Wedding Guest and make him aware of how life goes. He wants to do that because he sees himself in the young man. He thinks that if he tell his story, others can avoid making the same mistakes and understand that no matter how old you are, but that at each action there is a consequence or reaction and you can’t run away. I believe that each of us in our lives has been or is a “Wedding Guest” who believes that life goes always as he wants, but we have to understand that it can not be possible. So I don’t think that we all must be a sad and wise man as the Ancient Mariner, but only conscious of how the world and the society in we live work.

  26. The wedding guest is a thoughtless young man, with the end of fun. He has a childish mentality, but after a meeting his life changes completely and he begins to mature. Another important theme of the story is selfishness. The 200 mariners turned against the ancient mariner because he deprived they of a benefit and not because they criticize the fact that he killed the Albatross. In a group of people, there will always be a little selfishness that influences the choices of individual people.

  27. We all live in a condition like “wedding guest”, and sometimes we have an “Ancient Mariner” who helps us with the different stages of life. This “Ancient Mariner” can be our parents, our teachers, or a random person we meet. Everybody become “Ancient Mariner” by facing the trials of life, whether they are small or big things no matter how much we will change a bit the same. Every year we mature and have different experiences, which also end up moving away from some of our friends.

  28. At first, I could not understand the story that Coleridge told, but continuing the story, it conquered me more and more. I really like the fact that behind the simple story of a journey there can be many meanings. The thing that interested me most was the way Coleridge made it clear that every action corresponds to a consequence. It takes little to make a mistake, especially for teenagers, but the consequences could last forever. The Ancient Mariner tells the Wedding Guest about the mistake he made in his youth, killing the albatross. Now that we have finished the story in class, and after reading this article I can say that I liked it very much, I really liked the topics Coleridge talks about and the way he expressed them in the ballad. I also really like to think of life as a journey, to think that each of us in our own life was a “Wedding Guest” and then became an “Ancient Mariner”.

  29. I’m agree with your interpretation of this poem and I say that I liked it very much. I find right the difference between the “Ancient man” and the “Wedding guest” that symbolizes two period of our life. The Wedding guest is unconscious and not interested. He thought only to the wedding because when you are young think only to the good things. When you start to grow, you became more conscious and you start to have more awareness of things and events.

  30. I agree with what has been said and I think the role of the sailor is very important because it opens the wedding guest’s eyes about life.
    the ancient mariner helps the wedding quest to grow and learn by experiences.
    the mariner teaches us that life is not just fun and that, unfortunately, no one can be trusted.

  31. in my opinion the “Ancient Mariner” on the one hand does well to warn the young man but on the other hand he is wrong, because everyone must crash into their mistakes and learn from them, falling and getting up again. For me this means experience, it comes from this, from how many times you got up “on your own” after falling.

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