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We have just noted how some trochaic lines are incomplete. Occasionally, partly for the sake of variety and partly in imitation of the old ballads, Coleridge has employed an extra unaccented syllable:
But no | sweet bird | did fól | low.
Rapidity or slowness of movement is sometimes secured not through any variation of the metre, but by the choice of short, rapid words, or their opposites, as the case demands, and by their repetition. Coleridge is especially happy in his combination of vowel sounds to produce any given effect:
Alone, alone, all, all alone.
Most of the rhymes of the poem are good ones; the number of imperfect rhymes is comparatively small. There are a few illustrations of shifting the accent to the last syllable of a word for the sake of the rhyme, as was done in the old ballads. Now and then the use of the medial rhyme adds beauty and force to the stanza:
Around, around, flew each sweet sound.
While the normal stanza consists of four lines, we find frequent variations; sometimes the stanza is composed of five, six, or even in one instance of nine lines. Usually this variation occurs in the stanzas which contain striking portions of the story, such stanzas, for example, as those that mark important transitions: the entrance of the ship into the mysterious region in Stanza XII, and its return in Stanza CII. Occasionally by this variation is enhanced the beauty of some musical or picturesque passage, as in Stanza LXXXIV. Now and then, as in Stanza XXXV, the increased number of the lines emphasizes the monotony of the situation.
Questions for General Study and Review
Would the poem be as effective if written in some other metre, e.g., the dactylic hexametre of Longfellow's "Evangeline," or the blank verse of Bryant's "Thanatopsis"? Give as many reasons as you can for your answer.
Do you find any imperfect rhymes in the poem?
Select three illustrations of where the sound of the line reflects the sense.
Why are we not told anything more definite regarding the time and place of the story?
What different indications are there in the poem that the Ancient Mariner was a Roman Catholic?
Describe the typical sailor as you imagine him. Make out a description of the Ancient Mariner from the poem. Compare the two pictures.
In what different ways does the poet secure our faith in his story?
Is the punishment of the Ancient Mariner and of his messmates out of proportion to their offence?
Trace the different steps in the spiritual development of the Ancient Mariner.
Is the moral of the story too evident?
Try to select titles for each of the divisions of the poem. Such titles should be brief and should not suggest more than each division actually contains. When you have selected these titles, see if they contain in miniature the entire story of the Ancient Mariner.
What would have been the effect if there had been employed in this poem a homely, peasant-like style, as Wordsworth wished?
Could any stanzas be omitted without materially affecting the poem?
Select several passages that seem to you good ones for an artist to illustrate. Give reasons for your choice.
Are there any passages where the interest in the description is more powerful than in the story itself?
Are any lines of the poem suggestive of the Scriptures? Where is the movement of the story very rapid? Where very slow? Account for the changes.
Select five figures that seem especially apt or especially beautiful, and try to determine the source of their effective
Can you form any idea of the writer's character from the poem?
Would the poem be better if it "had more in it of the air and savor of the sea?"
What elements characteristic of romanticism do you find in the Ancient Mariner?
External nature may be employed in a poem (1) as a setting for the story; (2) to contrast with the spirit of the poem; (3) to harmonize with the spirit of the poem and to enforce it. Which of these uses do we find in this poem?
Coleridge's Methods of Description: (a) Epithets. A single vivid word is given; (b) Description by Effect; (c) Description brought out incidentally by the use of narrative. Can you find illustrations of these different methods of description?
What does Coleridge gain by the use of the gloss? Does it ever serve to explain the course of events? Does it add to the beauty of the scene? Does it add to the quaintness of the poem? Which do you consider the most beautiful of all the glosses, and why?
The "Poetical Works" of Coleridge, edited by Campbell; Macmillan, 1893. This is the standard edition of Coleridge's
work, and contains as an introduction the most satisfactory of the biographies of Coleridge.
The biography has been reissued in separate form by the Macmillans as Samuel Taylor Coleridge: a Narrative of the Events of his Life," 1894.
Biographia Literaria (etc.)." By S. T. Coleridge. Second edition, prepared for publication in part by the late H. N. Coleridge; completed and published by his widow; 2 volumes, 1847.
Select Poems of Coleridge," by A. J. George. D. C. Heath and Company, 1902.
Coleridge"; biography by H. D. Traill in the English "Men of Letter Series." A well written, comprehensive biography.
"Coleridge," biography by Hall Caine in the "Great Writers Series." Less satisfactory than the preceding biographies, but brilliant in places and containing an admirable bibliography.
Among Coleridge's poems possessing an autobiographical interest are “On Receiving an Account That His Only Sister's Death was Inevitable," "Absence," "Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement," "To the Rev. George Coleridge," "The Lime Tree Bower My Prison," "Frost at Midnight," "Dejection."
Valuable reminiscences of Coleridge have been left us by Lamb, DeQuincey, Wordsworth, Hunt, and Carlyle.
Pater's "Appreciations"; Macmillan, 1894. If the student is to read any critical comment, he will find this a most penetrating and suggestive essay.
Brooke's "Theology in the English Poets," Appleton, gives an interesting presentation of the moral significance of the story.
Dowden's "New Studies in Literature" contains some delightful and very sane criticisms.
THE VISION OF SIR LAUNFAL
In considering the theme of "The Vision of Sir Launfal," we need add little to the prefatory note Lowell has left us. Though the name, Sir Launfal, is not original, having been used before in a few obscure poems, Lowell has made the knight peculiarly his own. We must credit the poet both with the invention of the plot and with the extension of the significance of the quest. In the older stories of the Grail only the chaste could hope to catch sight of it; Lowell has broadened the requisite to the love of one's fellow-men. Into the poem, too, Lowell has put much of the life he was then living; the landscape described is essentially that of New England. In a letter written about the time he composed the poem he says:
Last night I walked to Watertown over the snow, with the new moon before me. Orion was rising before me, the stillness of the fields around me was delicious, broken only by the people of the little brook which runs too swiftly for Frost to catch. My picture of the brook in Sir Launfal was drawn from it."
The mode of writing the poem is characteristic of Lowell. Forty years after its composition he commented thus in one of his letters: "-how easily I used to write! too easily I think now. But I couldn't help it. Everything came at a jump and all of a piece." The first of the "Biglow Papers," "A Fable for Critics," "The Vision of Sir Launfal," and the "Commemoration Ode," not to mention others, were all written under such inspirations. Lowell often commented on his dependence upon moods for producing any satisfactory work.
In judging" Sir Launfal," then, we must remember that it was written in a few hours, and that it shows the advantages and the disadvantages of such a mode of composition. Lowell disliked exceedingly to revise and to polish his work. Poe, a far less prolific artist, returned time and time again to his