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Literary Devices in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Coleridge uses various poetic devices in his lyric ballad. These include alliteration, assonance, consonance and onomatopoeia. The fairly straightforward ABCB rhyme scheme is coupled with frequent use of internal rhyme. This rhyme structure creates a lilting, musical feel that echoes the poem’s oral storytelling mode as a ‘tale’ or fable. Parallelism is a deliberate repetition of the same grammatical structure. Coleridge uses parallelism throughout this poem, such as in the lines “For all averred, I had killed the bird / That made the breeze to blow,” and “Then all averred, I had killed the bird / That brought the fog and mist.” This adds symmetry to the poem that builds tension and adds to the poem’s ominous tone.

Literary Devices Examples in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts


"Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink...."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

Coleridge uses a literary device called situational irony in this stanza. The irony is that the ship is surrounded by water, but the sailors cannot drink the saltwater. Coleridge's use of irony here helps to emphasize just how dire the situation is for the sailors.

"Instead of the cross, the Albatross..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

The sailors ultimately blame the Mariner for their bad luck. As punishment, they make him wear the bird around his neck as a reminder of his crime. It is also a symbol of the burden of sin, and Coleridge is deliberately drawing a comparison between the Albatross and the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.

"Day after day, day after day,..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

Coleridge uses two literary devices in this stanza to emphasize the length of time that the ship was without wind. First, the repetition of "day after day" gives the impression of a lot of time passing by. Second, the simile in the last two lines where the ship is compared to a painting also reinforces the idea that the ship is static and can't actually move at all.

"The guests are met, the feast is set..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

Coleridge utilizes many different literary devices throughout the poem, such as this line where he uses internal rhyme. Coleridge employs this device, among others, to heighten the poem's effects by adding to the meanings of words and enhancing the cadence of the poem.

"Why look'st thou so?..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

Coleridge has the Wedding-Guest again briefly interrupt the story to help us better understand the Mariner. Since the Mariner only states that he shot the bird without describing the scene, the Wedding-Guest’s strong reaction to the expression on the Mariner’s face helps show us how deeply the Mariner regrets this action and foreshadows the consequences the Mariner later faces for killing the Albatross.

"Then all averred, I had killed the bird..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

In this stanza and the previous, Coleridge uses parallelism, repeating the same grammatical forms and structures, to contrast the superstitious and fickle nature of the sailors. The similar structures of these two sets of four lines help to highlight this contrast. First, they blame him for bringing bad luck on them, and then they quickly change their minds and praise him for killing the bird, thinking it had brought bad weather. By doing this, they make themselves accomplices in the Mariner’s crime, which has serious consequences later on.

"It cracked and growled, and roared and howled..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

Coleridge's use of these four verbs in succession are examples of onomatopoeia, which refers to words formed from sounds that they are associated with. Note how Coleridge uses this device to create an intense, almost living, scene in the desolate ice fields.

"Out of the sea came he!..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

Coleridge uses personification throughout this poem. By attributing human qualities to non-human elements, Coleridge gives them active roles in the story that help convey a variety of stronger impressions (supernatural, dangerous, serene) depending on the mood in different parts of the poem.

"it rained..."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

The rain in this section illustrates a key component in the rebirth, or change, of the Mariner. In literature, rain has many symbolic meanings, such as cleansing and renewal. Since the Mariner was finally able to sleep and awoke in the rain, Coleridge is showing us how the curse on the Mariner is breaking.

"And southward aye we fled...."   (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts)

So far, this poem has consisted of four-line stanzas, called quatrains, with a rhyme structure of ABCB. Coleridge deliberately breaks this style in this stanza and in several other places later on to demonstrate that he values content and meaning more than form and structure. This is significant because this poem and the larger collection it was published in, Lyrical Ballads, marked a significant transition in writing style away from classical poetic elements to the more modern, romantic period in British literature.

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