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pursued by the spirits of the region. The two poets began the composition together; but their styles were so different, Wordsworth's more human genius was so ill-adapted to cooperate with Coleridge's Ariel-like invention, that the former soon withdrew from the project. He did, however, furnish certain lines, for example,
"And listened like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will.”
The poem grew beyond expectation, and it was decided to make it one of a volume of poems to be written conjointly by the two young men. In due time this volume was published under the title, Lyrical Ballads. To this little collection Wordsworth brought nearly five times as much as did Coleridge, the best of his poems here contributed being "Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey." "The Ancient Mariner," however, stood first in the collection.
Coleridge tells us that the poets proposed for themselves two objects; and these two methods represent two extremes of romanticism. Coleridge was to take subjects concerned with romantic or supernatural characters, and by showing their truth to our inner life was "to procure for these shadows of the imagination that willing suspension of misbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith." Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to take the experiences and personages of every-day life and give an interest to these subjects by calling attention to the wonder and beauty which surround us, but for which, from long and careless association, we have lost our appreciation.
"The Ancient Mariner" underwent a number of changes in the subsequent editions of 1800 and 1817. Many of the more pronounced archaisms in spelling and in the use of words and phrases disappeared. Some few stanzas of the original text were either altered or dropped, and the sub
1 "Biographia Literaria," Chap. xiv.
title, "A Poet's Reverie," was added. This was wisely discarded in the edition of 1817 when the pruning process was continued resulting in almost every instance in an improvement of the poem. At this time, too, was added the beautiful gloss.
"The Ancient Mariner" a Literary Ballad
We may class "The Ancient Mariner" as a literary ballad: literary as opposed to the folk song-stories which grew up among the people; a ballad as possessing many of the characteristics of that primitive form of literature. It is true that most of the older ballads tell a story without attempting to enforce a moral, and that this poem embodies the lesson of the redemption of the Mariner; but the allegorical aspect of this masterpiece is not the thing of greatest importance. Just as in the folk songs, the chief interest lies in the story itself and in the manner of telling. One finds in this poem but few questions and answers, a characteristic of the older ballads, though there are frequent instances of lines repeated entire or with but slight variation. In its directness of narration, too, "The Ancient Mariner " is akin to the old-time song-stories. The language of the poem is quaint, and while not so archaic as to be unintelligible gives an impression of time that is past and blends well with the indefinite setting in an earlier age, when all lands had not been explored, and there were still undiscovered seas where such adventures as those of the Ancient Mariner might happen. Occasionally, too, the last syllable of a word is accented in old ballad fashion, alsó, marinér, and countrée.
Suggestions for Teaching and Study
Generally speaking, the work in literature should be intensive and extensive. The teacher in the secondary school should aim to acquaint the student with as many good books as possible, but the large majority of his students must plead
ignorance of any knowledge of better literature outside of the few prescribed books. There is much to be gained simply from the careful reading of the masterpieces of the vernacular. The teacher makes a mistake who does not set aside two or three days of each month when students shall report upon their reading of some of the great works of English literature. Then certain books should be studied carefully and thoroughly. Too often, it is true, such a study has been made mechanical and deadening; in noting the details there is a danger of losing the spirit of the entire poem. In spite of a good deal of valid objection to closely analytic methods of study, a certain amount of such work is absolutely essential to any intelligent enjoyment of literature; and such work may be highly disciplinary and thoroughly delightful. No other poem, perhaps, offers a better field for such analysis of the poet's art than does "The Ancient Mariner," and one's enjoyment and appreciation are greatly heightened in studying its wonderful beauty and perfection of form.
In taking up the study of the poem, the teacher should see that the students read and re-read it, not only till they are thoroughly acquainted with the story, but till they have succeeded in entering into its spirit and in feeling the beauty, the quaintness of style, and the simple directness of the narrative. It is not well at first to emphasize the moral of the poem. True, there is woven into the warp of the story the lesson of the redemption of the Ancient Mariner-how he violates the law of love, and how he is punished by being given over to the power of Life-in-Death. But this lesson is by no means the most important part of the poem. If beauty is its own excuse for being, the existence of "The Ancient Mariner" is certainly justified. Try, above all else, to help the student to enter into this Coleridge-land, this region of the silent sea, of the vast, dead calm with its intense heat, of weird moonlight, and of the mysterious, beautiful figures that conduct the Mariner home.
The verse of "The Ancient Mariner" is marked by the haunting quality that distinguishes the best of Poe's poems. The swing of the rhythm impresses the lines upon the memory, so that most students will find it an easy and pleasant task to commit to memory many stanzas. The teacher should encourage the pupils to select and to commit those portions of the poem that impress them for the beauty and vividness of the scene presented, for the musical flow of the verse, for the sweet, simple moral, for the quaint archaic diction, or for whatever reason the stanzas may appeal as of special worth. In almost every class seven students will be willing each to commit one of the parts of the poem, and thus by each repeating his portion in turn, to recite the whole in a single class hour.
Naturally the teacher must pay a certain amount of attention to the grammatical structure and the allusions, not so much as valuable in themselves as helpful in grasping the meaning and beauty of the whole. The questions, too, aim primarily to emphasize the wonderful art of the poet in the composition of "The Ancient Mariner," and of his marvellous ability to paint beautiful word pictures. The teacher must impress upon the student that when he has grasped all the notes and answered all the questions he will not have gained all from the poem. To each pupil will come thoughts, suggestions, and comparisons that will be worth more to him than the contributions of either teacher or editor. As these ideas arise, it is well to jot them along the margin of the page or in a special notebook. While students are studying "The Ancient Mariner," they should be encouraged to read other poems by the same author. Some of the best of Coleridge's poems are "Christabel," "Kubla Khan," "Ballad of the Dark Ladie," "Fears in Solitude," "Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni," "Frost at Midnight," "Dejection," and "The Pains of Sleep."
After the student has studied the poem thoroughly, he
should re-read it once or twice to enjoy it; for here, after all, lies its value to enjoy it with the added ability for appreciation which study has brought.
The Metrical Form
The normal stanza of "The Ancient Mariner " is made up of four lines, the first and the third consisting of four feet, the second and fourth of three. The normal line we may say consists of four iambic feet, that is four feet each containing one unaccented and one accented syllable:
I closed my eyes | and kept | them closed.
A number of exceptions are to be noted. For example, when the poet wishes to give a rapidity of movement to the line, he frequently employs the trochaic foot, consisting of one accented and one unaccented syllable.
Sometimes the anapæstic foot-two unaccented and one accented syllables-is used:
For the sky and the sea | and the sea | and the sky.
In a few instances we find several successive lines beginning with an anapæstic foot as in Stanza LXIII. Almost always, though, the anapastic and the trochaic feet are employed in combination with the iambic foot. Now and then all of the three different kinds of metre are used in the same line:
Lay like a load on my weary eye