The poem The Ancient Mariner shows Coleridge’s pictorial power and range. In most cases an image has been drawn by the use of a few words only. The poem abounds in Nature-pictures drawn from with a striking economy of words. Many of these nature pictures are richly colored. Here is an exquisite picture of mist, snow and ice-bergs.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold
The picture of ice bergs is repeated for the shake of emphasis. We have some sound pictures also in the following stanza.
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around :
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound !
Coleridge portrays the sufferings of the mariner and his shipmates using the imageries of hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell. He also personifies the nature and natural forces. Coleridge uses very vivid imageries in order to intensify the sufferings.
The imagery through which the isolation of the mariners is shown is an audio-visual imagery “the silent sea”. Coleridge gives the picture of a lonely silent sea. The ship has been suddenly becalmed.
'Twas sad as sad could be ;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea !
We know that the act of crime makes a being completely isolated, lonely. Adam and Eve became lonely inhabitants of the world after their crime. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth became same lonely when they committed a crime. Once we see how lonely the mariners have become after the crime.
We notice a contrast between the two conditions of nature before and after the killing of the bird. Before the sun was “bright” but now it has become “the bloody sun.” in a “hot and copper sky”.
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
The nature continues punishing the mariners. The wind refuses to blow, and the sun’s relentless heat chars the men.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breathe nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean
This hot sun makes the mariners thirsty but they have no drinkable water.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The mariner lives like Tantalus. They need water badly and it is all around them but it is entirely undrinkable. The throats became “unslaked” and “lips baked” under the hot sun.
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
The shipmates, in their sore distress, throw the whole guilt on the ancient Mariner and in sign they hang the dead sea-bird round his neck.
‘Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.’
The time is weary and long. They have nothing to do but suffer only.
A weary time ! a weary time !
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.
A mysterious ship arrives. When the ship is sighted in the distance, the sailors feel happy to think that the will now get water to quench their burning thirst.
‘I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail ! a sail !’
But in a few moments they discover the reality of the ship. The crew consists of Death and Life- in- death.
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.
Coleridge beautifully depicts the mental suffering of the Mariner under this condition through imagery:-
“Fear at my heart, as at a cup
My life blood seemed to sip.”
The suffering becomes even more painful when all his fellow men dropped down one by one. And the soul of each passes by him with the sound like that of his arrow that killed the Albatross.
“They dropped down one by one.”
For seven days and nights the mariner remained alone on the ship.
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea !
The dead sailors, who miraculously did not rot, continued to curse him with their open eyes which intensified his inner guilt.
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.
His surroundings- the ship, the ocean, and the creatures within it are “rotting’ in the heat and sun, but he is the one who is rotten on the inside.
During his lonely days he spent his times by watching the little creatures on the ice. The mariner spontaneously recognizes the beauty of the sea snakes, his heart fills with love for them and he can bless them “unaware”
“A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware”
Only when the mariner is able to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, he is granted the ability to pray. The moment he begins to view the natural world benevolently, his spiritual thirst is quenched. As a sign, the albatross- the burden of sin falls from his neck.
‘The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.’
It finally rains and his thrust is quenched.
‘My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank”
The ship suddenly began to move towards the native land of the old sailor. Ultimately the ship reached near the harbor. It sank suddenly and the old sailor was rescued from the disaster.
Thus we have in this poem a large variety of imagery which are simply and viidly drawn. Almost every phase of sea-scape, land-scape, and cloud-scape is touched upon in this poem. The masterly use of imagery is an important characteristic of the poem.