In Coleridge‘s “Rime“, the narrating voice, the Ancient Mariner, has an arduous task to accomplish: telling his moralizing tale to a young man who is about to attend a matrimony, The Wedding Guest. As I said, it is a very arduous task indeed, because a Wedding Guest is usually not in the mood of listening to stories, in particular if recounted by a strange old man. How can it be otherwise, when you are just about to join your friends at a fabulous party to have a jolly good time! The Wedding Guest, in fact, symbolizes that transient, light, thoughtless, “I can do everything” moment of life, which is youth. When you are thus young this is more or less your vision of life: a never-ending party and no annoying adult voice has to break the magnificence of this spell. However, the Mariner is not at all intimidated, but rather, provides us teachers with some interesting tips on how capturing the attention of our students willy-nilly. Actually, his first attempt turns out to be a failure, because the Mariner decides upon using his (scarce) force to stop the Wedding Guest and “holds him with his skinny hand“, which, in case you choose to follow his example in a moment of despair, is against the law, remember. Besides, the Wedding Guest is younger and therefore stronger than the Mariner, in fact he reacts violently, yelling at him “Hold off! Unhand me!” and after setting himself free from the old man’s grasp, he sneers at him defiantly, reminding him the arrogant supremacy of his youth. For him the Mariner is only a “grey-beard loon“. That wasn’t the right way. It never is. However, when you are young, you are so absorbed by your frantic life made relations, the new experiences of the world outside etc. that it happens not to pay the due attention to meaningful details. The Wedding Guest, in fact, had noticed the strange vitality of the Mariner ‘s look in a man so old, but he had not pondered enough about it and incredulously he finds himself paralyzed by the Mariner’s charm, who “holds him with his glittering eye” and “has his will”. Now that the young man stands “still” the Mariner can finally tell him his story and it’s only in that stillness that the boy will be able to enjoy and understand the narration and its moralizing intent: a trip, a storm, an albatross, Life in Death, sin and final repentance. Is the Mariner a wizard then? Not at all, he represents the poet, that with his creative power can produce that “suspension of disbelief ” that makes everybody listen “like a three years’ child“. In that suspension, the young and the adult can meet, talk, interact. This is the point, maybe also the teacher’s effort, just like that of the poet/Mariner, should aim at creating that moment of amazement in order to involve our young Wedding Guests more. I know, it’s not easy and it can’t happen every day, but when we eventually succeed in finding the words that breach their boredom and apathy and we start to see that “glitter” in their eyes, well, it’s absolutely amazing. That’s why we teach.
This will be the last post on Coleridge, I promise, but allow me one last consideration. In short we’ve said that the Ancient Mariner warns the Wedding Guest against the false values of materialistic society and that in so doing he warns us. But we have to say that the Wedding Guest in his unawareness seemed to have a jolly good time. He enjoyed a life focused mostly on relations, symbolized by the wedding party, and on the rites that relations share: food, drink, music, good conversation etc. He knew what he wanted and where to get it and above all it was real. This is the point. Modern Wedding Guests develop their relations in the cold solitude of their rooms in front of a computer and try to fool the spectre of their loneliness agitating a list of numerous virtual followers. They have trimmed their communicative effort to a “I like it”. Modern Wedding Guests have been brought up by media and video games of any kind so that they find difficult to draw a line between virtual and real world. This is their emotional Bildung. But when one of them feels that thrill and decides to pull that trigger, does he know in which world will he play his game?
In this post I would like to talk about the meaning of the main characters of Coleridge’s “Rime”. The poem begins with the Ancient Mariner who stops one of three young guys, who seem to be going to a Wedding feast, to tell his moralizing tale. I have always wondered why Coleridge had named that character Wedding Guest rather than, I don’t know….The Student, The Lover or like stereotyped characters we’ve read about. What is the cathegory of the Wedding Guest Like? What does a Wedding Guest do? Well, I guess a Wedding Guest loves parties, noise, people. He enjoys good food and drinks and since he attends matrimonies he needs nice fancy clothes. It seems to be a man who has singled out as his only values those typical of our contemporary materialistic society. He actually enjoys the feast of life. And he is young. His youth makes him arrogant. He despises the man who has dared stop him, because is old, shabby :”Hold off! Unhand me! Grey beard loon” he shouts. But the Mariner, who stands for the poet himself, doesn’t give in. Despite his age and apparent weakness he holds him with ” his glittering eye” and forces him to listen to his story. He wants to accomplish his task, that is elevating the soul of the Wedding Guest and ours at the same time, because he represents us, by means of poetry. So poetry is that spell , that pure energy, that can make worlds apparently different meet, communicate and and eventually grow as it will actually happen at the end of the ballad. Poetry is a kind of magic.