Introduction | Somerset Case | The Zong Case  | Abolishing the Slave Trade | Ending Slavery | "Time of the Ancient Mariner | Blake's Plates for Stedman | "To Toussaint L'Ouverture"

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

DepictionThomas Clarkson’s depiction of the interior of a slave ship, in his book The History of the Rise, Progress and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1808). Disease was rampant within the slave quarters, and the stench was unbearable. Of particular note is the level of detail attached to each of the slaves.
Although Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” has been dealt with by numerous scholars in a variety of ways, Debbie Lee interprets the poem as dealing with slavery. The poem, which was included in William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads in 1798, describes a man recounting a voyage of his at sea, where his shooting of an albatross appears to have cursed and condemned the ship’s crew.

Although Coleridge would speak more directly about the slave trade at times, Lee positions the poem in relation to the disease Yellow Fever (which was thought to have originated in the Caribbean, and which slaves were thought to be immune to) and connects the narrator’s guilt over killing the albatross with the guilt felt and experienced by regular citizens of England for their indirect participation in slavery.

Though Lee connects the poem to slavery, other scholarship (such as that by Michelle Levy and Robbie B. H. Goh) interprets it as being fascinated with the unknown and in relation to the Gothic. Such arguments do not conflict with Lee, though, as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” exposes to the English people unknowns about the slave trade.

John Stromski

Select Bibliography

Goh, Robbie B. H. “(M)Othering the Nation: Guilt, Sexuality and the Commercial State in Coleridge’s Gothic
      Poetry.” Journal of Narrative Theory 33.3 (2003): 270-291. Web. 4 April 2012.

Lee, Debbie. “Distant Diseases: Yellow Fever in Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’” Slavery and the
     Romantic Imagination.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2002. Print.

Levy, Michelle. “Discovery and the Domestic Affections in Coleridge and Shelley.” Studies in English Literature
44.4 (2004): 693-713. Web. 4 April 2012.