S.T.Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Today we’re going to read the first part of a  beautiful long poem, a ballad by the romantic poet S.T.Coleridge who, as you already know, was Wordsworth’s best friend.

STEP 1: Introduction the author and his work. You’ve already watched the video presentation as home assignment.

STEP 2: We’ll watch a video of the ballad. You’ll find a translation of the first part of the Ballad by S.T.Coleridge. Look at the illustrations by GUSTAVE DORE’. (Trad. It. di Franco Buffoni). Music by King Crimson, ‘Sailor’s Tale’.

Here’s the complete Ballad in Englishcon traduzione in Italiano a fronte).

At home to revise it or if you’ve missed class, you can listen again to the poem while reading the text in Italian.


The second video is a version read by the famous actor Orson Wells. Part 1

If you want you can have a look at this video of the ballad with the soundtrack by Iron Maiden. 

When you’ve studied the text, try to TAKE the QUIZ.

In editions where it is included, the LATIN EPIGRAPH serves as a semi-thesis for the poem. It is a Latin quote from Burnet’s “Archaeologiae Philosophicae (1692), which Coleridge translates as follows:  “I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe. But who will explain for us the family of all these beings, and the ranks and relations and distinguishing features and functions of each? What do they do? What places do they inhabit? The human mind has always sought the knowledge of these things, but never attained it. Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, narrow itself and sink wholly into trivial thoughts. But at the same time we must be watchful for the truth and keep a sense of proportion, so that we may distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night.”

As regards the ALBATROSS:

  1. There’s a reference to the Albatross also in the Pink Floyd ‘Echoes:

“Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air

And deep beneath the rolling waves, in labyrinths of coral caves,

The echo of a distant tide comes willowing across the sand,

And everything is green and submarine.”

2. In Mary Shelley’s “Frankestein” the doctor promises his sister he shan’t kill any albatross.

“[…] I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart. I am going to unexplored regions, to “the lend of mist and snow;” but I shall kill no albatross, therefore do not be alarmed for my safety. […]” .

3. During the nineteenth century, in the maritime folklore sailors believed that their old mates who died at sea were reborn as albatrosses.

4. Finally to the Maori, the albatross was a spiritual symbol of peace, beauty and power. Its feathers and bones get a break and people who wear pendants made of feathers or bones were the same qualities as albatross’ ones. Garlands of feathers sometimes adorned the prow of waka taua (war canoes).

5. In Hawaiian mythology the albatross appears in stories as intercessors come from the heaven.

Here’s what I found about the albatross in music. You may know some of the groups 🙂 (source WIKIPEDIA

La band Indie-Rock Guided by Voices cita un albatros nella canzone “Peep Hole”, inclusa nell’album Bee Thousand del 1994. Il testo è il seguente:« give me the cost of the albatross and wear it ’round your neck for size don’t let it get you down » « dimmi quanto costa l’albatros e indossalo avvolgendotelo al collo per provarne la misura non lasciarti abbattere »  (Bee Thousand, “Peep Hole”)

La band post-Punk Public Image Ltd ha inciso una canzone chiamata “Albatross” nell’album “Metal Box”. Il testo include i seguenti versi:

(EN)« getting rid of the albatross sowing the seeds of discontent riding along on the crest of a wave » « liberarsi dell’albatros piantare i semi del malcontento cavalcando la cresta dell’onda » (Public Image Ltd, “Albatross”)

La canzone “Echoes”, della band psychedelic rock/progressive rock Pink Floyd, contenuta nell’album Meddle del 1971, riprende il tema del sublime e dell’incomprensibilità della natura, espresso anche nella ballata di Coleridge. Viene messa in evidenza la solitudine dell’uomo di fronte alle grandiose bellezze della natura, e la sua incapacità di trovare in essa un qualsivoglia scopo. Il testo inizia così:

« Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air/And deep beneath the rolling waves, in labyrinths of coral caves,/The echo of a distant tide comes willowing across the sand,/And everything is green and submarine. »

« Sopra la mia testa l’albatros è sospeso immobile in aria/e in profondità sotto il rollìo delle onde, nel labirinto di grotte coralline/giunge l’eco di una lontana marea, sfilacciandosi tra la sabbia,/ e tutto è verde e sottomarino. »(Pink Floyd, “Echoes”)

(Il musicista sperimentale Momus (Nick Currie), inglese di origini scozzesi, allude a questa metafora nella sua canzone del 1988 “The Charm of Innocence.” Il ritornello è:

« :I was born with the charm of innocence/On my back like a cross/Thorns upon my forehead/Round my neck I wore it/Sometimes a rabbit’s claw/Sometimes an albatross »

Anche  Rickie Lee Jones si riferisce a questa metafora nella sua canzone ‘The Albatross’

“There, there is my ship/Finally come in/I see the mast rolling on the steps/Over the garden wall/I hear the sailor’s call/I see the albatross/And I never want to lose their inspiration”

Anche il gruppo rock punk Bad Religion si riferisce all’albatross nella sua canzone “It’s a Long Way to the Promised Land.” Il testo starts out: “It’s a long way/To the promised land/So you better well know your way/There’s a ship on the ocean/And an albatross who is trying to lead you astray”

Anche Brave Saint Saturn ha una canzone dal titolo “Albatross” in cui si paragona l’albatross con la croce cristiana.”Around my neck there is an albatross./Some people think it looks, looks like a cross,/But it’s not, it’s – well it’s an albatross./There to remind me of who I’ll never be, never be, never be.”

Nella canzone Rebels of the Sacred Heart del gruppo “punk” irlandese/californiano Flogging Molly il cantante Dave King canta:”the albatross hanging round your neck, is the cross you bear for he sins he bleeds”…paragonando l’albatross alla croce Cattolica, essendo la canzone riferita alla vita di un giovanotto ribelle di scuola Cattolica irlandese

La band hardcore/progressive Converge ha scritto una canzone dal titolo “Albatross,” che usa la metafora per descrivere il dispiacere e il senso di colpa provato dopo la morte di cinque amici. Il termine albatross era usato anche nel poema “Snake” di D. H. Lawrence. (fonte Wikipedia)

  •  Has this post helped you study and appreciate Coleridge’s ballad?
  • Do you know any other references to the Albatross in music or literature?

6 thoughts on “S.T.Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

  1. Thank you prof for giving us all these informations. I really appreciate it, even though I didn’t see the last video of the last assignment, and I’m truly sorry for that. I’m a big admirer of all those artists who take inspiration for their art from such huge masters of literature and popular believes. Another thing that fascinates me is symbolism: a universal concept, understood by anyone, traditionally completely belonging to one specific figure. Such a great thing. This is what ART is, the world surrounding us and what our minds can take from it, including good and bad things. Appreciating small things in nature (like an albatross) and in life would make it all better, and we all should learn a lot of things from other cultures.

  2. I always appreciate reflection like these ones, I like trying to understand the variety of meanings and symbols in global cultures 🙂
    I can’t find other examples in literature about the albatross, but surfing the web I found a website called “ccalbatross” in which we can find famous quotations about a variety of topics (like the ones of Oscar Wilde or Cesare Pavese etc.).
    This choice (giving this name for a website) makes me think about the importance of the Albatross in the world.
    Before reading “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” I wouldn’t have had any ideas about the meaning of this blessed bird! That’s pretty curious, a poultry seen as this, symbol of chasity, a creature who embodies God and Heaven … wow 🙂

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing all of these materials ’cause they have been very helpful for the reading comprehension.
    The text looks much clearer now, even if it’s pretty annoying to read the end without knowing the reason why the Albatross has been killed by the mariner.
    By the way, like Francesca said, it’s very interesting to realize how this bird is seen by different cultures and, perhaps it’s even more fascinating, to see how this figure is used in the other artistic fields, such as song lyrics, paintings and pictures.

  4. After reading this post my knowledge about coleridge’s ballad is more clear and it has been also a review of what we have done in class. Before the lesson about “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” I didn’t know the story and what surprised me is the fact that the albatross of Coleridge is mentioned in several songs and poems.
    I didn’t know that this bird was a spiritual symbol of peace, beauty and power for the Maori and also that in Hawaiian mythology the albatross appears in stories as intercessors come from the heaven.
    As Valentina has said, nowadays we have a famous song “I’m an Albatraoz” by the Swedish Dj AronChupa who uses the Albatross as a symbol of a strong woman.
    I’m not sure to be right but, could be the Albatross compared with another kind of bird as the dove, Christianity’s symbol of peace and purity?

  5. Thanks to this post I had the opportunity to increase my knowledge about Coleridge and the particular figure of the “Albatross”. I was not aware of the fact that a lot of singers and writers took it as an inspirational topic and that it has all these meanings. It’s very interesting to see how different cultures used this bird as a symbol of peace, heaven and rebirth. I think that there are so many curious beliefs around the world about something that it seems just so easy or irrelevant to us. What’s great about being different from one another is that there’s always the chance to learn a lot from the other realities. So yes, I appreciated this mysterious ballad and its moral impressed me. To finish, we feel incomplete because we don’t know the reason why the Mariner killed the Albatross and in my opinion this is just a sign of the uncontrollable desire of man to know more than what he actually can but all we have to do is understand that “Sometimes we can’t explain everything” :)

  6. This post has saved me:) I’ve missed class about Coleridge and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner because of Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro, so thanks to it I have understood better Coleridge’s Ballad and its themes. I learnt a lot also from the Quiz with the multiple choice questions which have helped me to remember better the main concepts of the ballad, the characters, the place where it is set…I love Coleridge’s imagination and this Ballad is full of details that Coleridge shapes into something else. The moral is “we have to respect nature and all creatures because God is in it”.
    In music, literature and also in osme films, we find a lot of references to the Albatross, for example in the 1779 film “The Fog” by John Carpenter, a radio-station promo is possesed by ghostly forces to speak out and the word “Albatross” is used to tell of the curse on Antonio Bay. In music we have the famous song “I’m an Albatroz” by the swdish Dj AronChupa who uses the Albatross as an inexplicable metaphor for female empowerment.

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