The water snakes


Samuel Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Galli Federico 5°F

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
     I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white
And when they reared, the elfish light
     Fell off in hoary flakes.

This passage is taken from The rime of an ancient mariner”, the first poem of collection Lyrical ballads”, written by S.T. Colerige (in collaboration with Wordsworth) in 1798.
This Rime is a ballad, and is divided in seven parts. In the first an ancient mariner with a particular glittering eye stops a man during a wedding party to tell him a story, his story. He tells him about how he reached the pole region after a storm and what terrible action he had committed: he killed an albatross. In the second part the mariners suffer for what he has done and the sailors are tortured by remorses, and all become stationary, the only moving things are water snakes.
In the third part a ghost ship comes closer to mariners ship. On board Death and Life in death play dice to decide who takes mariners lifes. Death wins and mariners all die but the protagonist, who is destined to live in solitude. In the fifth part the ship begin to move and begins side by side the process of repentance, that continues in the sixth part to the last part, in which the mariner has gained the guests sympathy.
The passage I examined is taken from the first lines of part six. The mariner is alone and all his fellows are dead and he tries to pray, but he couldnt do that. The night comes and, while he was looking to the sea, he saw some water snakes that instead of looking horrible, makes the mariner happy and gives him the sense of love and beauty. This is the begin of his spiritual rebirth. So the mariner starts to bless this slimy creatures and after this fact he realizes he could pray and the albatross he has killed (which remained hanged to mariners neck from the murder) falls in the deepest sea. The passage ends with the departure of the mariner and the guest, who is sadder and wiser after his tale.
Rime of an ancient mariner” is an allegory of human life, from the original sin which is the killing of the albatross to redemption. There is also a big contrast between reason and irrationality embodied by sun and moon. Sun stands for reason and under this starlight happen only bad things. It because reason is neglected by romantic author (like Colerige). Instead good things happen under moonlight, that represent imagination. The killing of the albatross is the symbol of the original sin, the mariner kills without any reason nature and every God creatures. In fact after this act he couldnt pray, he couldnt talk to God because he is guilty. Only after the blessing of the water snakes, that stands for the repentance of the mariner and his new approach to nature he could . Colerige however let us think that the only way the mariner could be forgiven is his death.
The author uses a combination with dialogue and narration, an archaic language, full of alliteration and onomatopoeias, all elements typical of a ballad. The themes dealt are travel, the travel of the human soul through a crime against nature to the forgiveness, nature, that for Colerige is not something divine, but a reflection of an ideal world, and the contrast between reason and imagination, typical theme of romantic poet as Colerige and Wordsworth.

di Federico Galli