Compare and contrast Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Wordsworth’s “The Torn”.

Compare and contrast Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Wordsworth’s “The Torn”. Your disccussion should take into account the statements of aim and poetic beliefs set forth by the two poets in their theoretical comments on Lyrical Ballads.


Although similar in many respects, the views of poetry of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) differs in some ways that can be seen as descriptive of the contrasting tendencies within the romantic period. This shows in their respective poems “The Thorn” and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. In this essay I will primarily contrast the views of the two poets on their own poetry as well as on poetry and society in general before I bring in some specific elements from the poems to illustrate the comparison.

Wordsworth’s poetic belief can be illustrated with his famous statement that “poetry is the spontaneus overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility…”[1]


In his poem “The Thorn”, there are several themes that take pre-eminence throughout the story. It is my point of view having read “Preface to Lyrical ballads”, that Wordsworths themes, which I shall provide exsamples of from the poetry, are collected in a tranquil state of mind from his walks in nature. Later, at home, nature so impressed his mind that nature images took living forms on which wrote “The Thorn”.


(write  short about the poems content and progression ”“ who is talking etc)


Wordsworth’s theme of nature is here seen as that of mother, guide, healer and nurse to the heroine of the poem, Martha Ray. All his themes derive in one form or another from nature because of his use of metaphors and comparisons. The poem are also written with a pantheistic view in mind, in which God is present in everything. This corresponds to the view in the romantic writers in the period. According to his views written in “The Preface” themes should be selected from the lives of the simple people which he calls a rustic life. In other words it should be a real and truthful portrait of happenings in the lives of simple people, but although this resembles the attitude of the writers in the period of realism, there are other aspects which set the periods apart. The language should also be that of the simple people, whom Wordsworth claimed used a real language, a spontaneus rustic language free from the pretence of the upper classes, of whom he thought, had removed themselves from real life through their education and upbringing. Wordsworth observed that simple people lived in a closer union with nature and that made them more authentic. Colerdige complained to Wordsworth as he observed that Wordsworth’s language was too elevated and that he used meter. According to Coleridge this was not exactly a simple rustic language. Ordinary people did not speak in meter and the language should have been presented through the use of prose. Wordsworth’s ambition was to do this, he had argued against the use of meter in poetry, but he succeeded only in theory. Wordsworth’s view on life is based on his belief in the goodness of mankind and also much from Rousseau’s teaching: that people must go back to nature in order to find their real self. Wordsworth world view was to be in tone with the simple everyday life of things. He sought after expressions in and through the natural elements and shared the literary romantic view. He was confirmed in a belief of nature as the big healer whereas he saw society more as a destructive force, which again was why people should turn to nature in order to cleanse themselves from the negative aspect of society.


Coleridge’s view on poetry and his world view was slightly different from that of Wordsworth.[2] He empasized that meter should be used and according to his observation the poetic language was not as simple as Wordsworth wanted it to be. Coleridge was similar to Wordsworth in that his themes was taken from nature, but he saw nature more as a destroyer than a healer. Coleridge was lead by a belief in the supernatural and in mysticism, which are all romantic literary elements. He found his views confirmed through means of nature forces working on mankind; floods, earthquakes, lightning. His view was that these powerful forces would turn on man if he commited crimes against nature.


Coleridge was perscribed to opium when he encountered a painful malady, by his doctor. It is a recognized fact his addiction led him into a state producing dreams and visions, both mystical and grotesque, which he further embroidered in “The Ancient Mariner”. It is in accordance with the romantic tradition to lay emphasis on the inner life: dreams and visions, but although they play a central part for inspiration, as said, there was also additional work which did not derive directly from the vision, in bringing these visions to life through language.


In “The Rime of The Ancient Mariner” Coleridge makes ample use of fantasy an example is that the sky is too dramatic to be real. (quote/example!) An other literary method would be the use of nature images in the form of water snakes, the Albatross, The Ancient Mariner, he is old, comparable to a kind of Patriarch and has been given a profetic power. He is a foreteller. He sees the storm is coming. The Ancient Mariner is a mystic person. He predicts that nature will punish crimes comitted and that he will have to suffer consequenses from having killed the Albatross. The theme of punishment is thereby realized. The sun becomes extremely hot, as though by a supernatural force and produces an extreme thirst in the crew and the Mariner. There is water all around, but it is salt water which can not be drunk. This is an extreme punishment. The Ancient Mariner killed a Christian soul when he shot the Albatross and now he and the crew have to atone the crime. The crew is seen guilty in crime, as they went along with what the Mariner did. There are many imagery elements like: The Albatross as a Christian soul, watersnakes, Sea animals, the hermit, Angelic hosts, the South Pool Spirit, the storm, the icebergs and the two demon spirits, to mention some. Coleridge uses both metaphores, the Albatross as a Christian soul, the sun as a punisher and similes, :


In “the Thorn” we also find many nature elements; the thorn, the pond, the mountain, the hill, trees, the Child and destructive forses at work. The language is very simple, but it has meter. We see Wordsworths panteistic world view through his use of the thorn, the pond, the child and the pregnancy of Martha Ray, to mention some. We notice his romantic view through this poem. The language is simple, his themes are taken from nature and also uses themes from the lives of the villagers. In this poem his poetic theory is carried out into practice. Wordworth has been out walking in nature and seen the thorn, the pond, the mountain and returned home. Then he reflects on what he has seen and writes and composes the poem, (adding his opinion of the world and his surroundings).


There are many differences between the poems, and primarily these can be traced to derive from the men’s poetic visions. The most evident difference is in the styles. Although both use nature as the background from which they talk about larger things and with which they can show a theoretical and philosophical standing point, the nature in Wordsworth’s poem seems. The scenery is also different; while “The Thorn” takes place in the inland, the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” takes mostly part at sea and this creates different possibilities for imagery altogether. And yet, both poets manage to describe the dramatic aspects of the nature they use and thus enhance the human tragedies they tell about:


“High on mountain’s highest ridge,

Where oft the stormy winter gale

Cuts like a scythe, while through the clouds

It sweeps from vale to vale;”

“The Thorn”, line 23-26




The thick black cloud was cleft, and still

The moon was at its side:

Like waters shot from some high crag,

The lightning fell with never a jag,

A river steep and wide.

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, line 322-326


However, Coleridge’s poem is more concentrated on the almost epic sounding story he is telling than on the wildness of nature as such. That is, the weather has a big symbolic significance for Coleridge as well, but Wordsworth’s starting point is nature itself and he only later goes on to explore the individual who is telling the story.)

There are natural elements in both. In “The Thorn” nature is the healer as society punishes Martha Ray, whereas nature punishes “The Ancient Mariner”.


Another significant difference is the fact that the dramatic elements play such a big part in “The Ancient Mariner”, while it is not so in “The Thorn”. This illustrates the more descriptive nature of Wordsworth’s poem, while Coleridge tells his story with more focus on the events though their symbolic meaning is highly significant than the scenery as almost a character of its own.


“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is based on Coleridge’s supernatural world view while “the Thorn” is not.


The gender differnce of the main characters. Rime: man, Thorn: woman.


Frame narration ”“ Rime, A sea captain who lives in the village is speaking he doesn’t think that Martha Ray could kill her baby – he is an observer -Thorn



Although the views of the two poets differ when it comes to certain aspects such as what the language of poetry should be, what binds them together is primarily the unity of the literary, or more specifically the poetic ideal. It is through what is original and natural in the increasingly industrialized and modern world, namely nature itself and the subconscious, which is able to produce truth.

[1] ”Preface to Lyrical Ballads”


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