Coleridge’s Treatment of Supernatural in “The Ancient Mariner”

When Coleridge and Wordsworth published “Lyrical Ballads” which laid the foundation stone of Romantic poetry Coleridge states that it was his aim to select remote; uncommon or supernatural incidents in such a manner as to make them appear real. This particular aim of Coleridge is manifested in the “Ancient Mariner” which is based on supernatural elements. But the total effect of the Poem is realistic and Coleridge believed that “The Willing suspension of disbelief”, Coleridge means that the reader suspends his analytical power and he is profaned to accept whatever is told in the narrative. The Ancient Mariner contrasts several improbable incidents but it is not a fantasy of disconnected events but a coherent story which appears credible to the reader.

The Mariner killed Albatross without giving us any specific reason and after the killing of the bird, a number of fantastic events followed one after another to suggest the serious nature of the Mariner’s crime. The sudden appearance of the mysterious skeleton ship, the specter- woman and her death mate and the appearance of life in death are taken from the supernatural world in order to produce a sense of horror connected with the Mariner’s psychology. But these supernatural phenomena are so skillfully blended with the natural events that the whole thing appears to be real. The images of horror are introduced to indicate the psychological condition and suffering of the Mariner. The realistic aspect of the story is presented by the presentation of the Mariner’s psychological condition. Coleridge produces a sense of horror not by the direct description but by employing suggestive symbols to portray the psychological condition of the Mariner. The figure of Specter- woman and her death mate are eternal agents that are connected with the Mariner’s mind. The appearance of life in death conveys a sense of horror and its subsequent effect would freeze a man’s blood. The image of the skeleton ship with death and life in death is taken from the supernatural world to show the effect of the crime on the Mariner’s mind. Another horror situation that produced in the poem is the death of two hundred sailors who dropped down dead one by one cursing the Mariner for his hideous crime.

Coleridge aimed at making the supernatural conversing and human. He wanted in his poem a human interest with a touch of reality. Coleridge exercises imagination realism in this poem. However unnatural the events may be, they are made of the natural elements and for this reason, they appear to be credible. Once we have entered into this imaginary world, we do not feel that it is beyond our comprehension but respond to it with the intensity and actual emotion. Besides the realistic treatments of the setting in the background of the natural landscape, Coleridge’s footage of characters appeals to our emotion. What touches us about them is the pain and suffering. Their agonies are universalized with basic human emotion. We feel that what happens to them, might in similar circumstances, happen to anyone and we readily respond to the misery and helpless plight of the persons involved in guilt and suffering.

Coleridge expects us to suppose that the situations are real and this is easy when situations belong to ordinary experiences but when the supernatural takes control Coleridge uses all his skill to achieve a realistic effect within the supernatural frame done. The paradox nature of the Mariner’s voyage from England to the South Pacific, from the known to unknown, from the familiar to the strange world keeps the reader spellbound. The reader is willing to accept everything that is happening in the strange world without questioning its validity. By the magic power of his art, Coleridge retains the reader’s interest till the last page.

The Ancient Mariner is much more than a fairy tale. The entire story of the Mariner’s crime, his suffering and punishment are presented through the supernatural agents. Coleridge has used supernatural symbols to show the magnitude of the Mariner’s crime and his subsequent punishment. In conclusion, it can be said that “The Ancient Mariner” is a great poem in which Coleridge has achieved his desired effect with the harmonious blending of the natural and the supernatural.


Founder & CEO, Hamandista Academy  

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