Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge as a Ballad

The Ancient Mariner by S.T. Coleridge is a literary ballad. Ballad is one of the earliest forms of literature.The refrain of words, lines and sometimes stanza is a special feature of folk ballads. Coleridge makes use of refrain in a subtle way. He makes use of refrain for emphasis or for reminding us of the essence of a thing. In the following lines refrain is clearly meant for emphasis. In he following lines repetition is clearly meant for emphasis:

Water, water everywhere
Nor any drop to drink.”

Musical arrangement of words

Coleridge has shown great skill in arranging the words of his verses in a melodious manner. For the sake of musical arrangement of words he has frequently employed alliteration, assonance, and various rhythms. In the following passage he has employed the hissing sounds of “s” to convey the idea of movement in a musical manner.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship,
Yet she sailed softly too
Sweetly sweetly blew the breeze
On me alone it blew.

Supernatural Machinery and Mysticism:-

Supernatural element is an essential element of ballads of all description. Coleridge in this poem has built in a large supernatural machinery to draw and effective and purposeful contrast between things natural and things human. The supernatural world or life has logic of its own and comes into action to impose the due punishment. It even controls, influences, and takes advantages of natural elements like the wind, the stars, the rain, the fog and the mist. The Ancient Mariner is also packed with mystery of an awful nature. The Mariner’s ship is becalmed. The ocean begins to rot. Then the ship begins to sail without a tide. The Mariner tells nothing of who he is and little of what he does. In the poem we find him as a helpless soul passing through strange experiences.

Short ballad stanzas

The poem is written in short ballad stanzas. Many of them are four-line stanzas. But some are also five line, or six line stanzas. The verses are iambic tetrameters followed by iambic trimeters. The rhythms are various. The stanza is the same that occurs in Thoma’s Pery’s ballads. But Coleridge’s stanza is more polished and finished than Percy’s.


The Ancient Mariner has touches of modernity. The psychological effect in which the poem abounds is something modern and original. In old ballads entire emphasis is laid upon external events. In Ancient Mariner the poet describes not only the external events but also what happens in the mind of the ancient Mariner. Thus we are told that The Ancient Mariner felt extremely fear stricken when the ghost-ship disappeared all of a sudden on the sea.

Fear at my heart at a cup
My life blood seemed to sip.

In the light of the above discussion, I may be concluded that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is obviously a ballad in its form. The poem has everything- a vivid story, dramatic action, verbal music, a scenic setting, and mystery. It is a beautiful ballad possessing all the characteristics of a ballad in a more polished and finished form.