Why Even Include the Wedding?

Although the setting of the wedding in “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” almost seems unnecessary, it actually serves to emphasize the extraordinariness of the mariner’s story by being such a mundane or ordinary event.  At the beginning of the poem, Coleridge writes that, “The Guests are met, the Feast is set – / May’st hear the merry din.’// But still he holds the wedding-guest – / ‘There was a Ship’, quoth he” (lines 7-9).  The wedding is about to begin.  Everything is “set,” and any minute the bride will walk down the aisle, yet the mariner prevents the wedding guest from entering the venue with the “merry din” and excitement and begins his story.  Coleridge places the moment the wedding is about to officially commence alongside the moment the mariner begins his story, and the wedding guest is left with no choice but to listen.  Coleridge’s decision to do this implies that between a celebration of matrimony and a story of a ship, the latter is more important.  The audience as well as the guest who is supposed to be at the wedding is meant to hear the story instead of the couple’s vows.  The importance of the story is further proved when “The Bride hath paced into the hall” and yet the wedding guest “cannot chuse but hear” the mariner’s story (lines 37 and 42).  This story takes precedent even over the entrance of the bride, which is an important event that no wedding guest would normally be ok with missing.  

The reason the wedding is so mundane compared to the mariner’s story is that it lacks the sublime present in the recounting of the mariner at sea.  Before the bride’s entrance, the mariner had informed the wedding guest of the sun that “came up on the left, / Out of the sea came he; / And he shone bright, and on the right / Went down into the Sea” (lines 29-32).  The picture painted by the mariner encapsulates the sublime, describing the rising and setting of the sun as it shines onto the ship and the sea while establishing the direction the boat sailed.  The wedding guest is enthralled by the sublime, and the bride, though “Red as a rose,” cannot compare to the image of the sun glittering on the sea as the ship sails southward (line 38).  Readers see that nature overpowers human constructions (the wedding) because the guest is already hooked on the mariner’s story just by the description of the movement of the sun.  The wedding represents the epitome and the peak of human and societal constructions, and the sublime represents the peak of nature, or the opposite of the wedding.  Then, the two are written to occur at the exact same time so as to force a decision to be made about which one is more important.  And in Coleridge’s poem, nature is.

The inclusion of the sublime in this poem is significant because it provides an example of the deep appreciation for nature and the sublime the romantics had.  The continuous depictions of nature that evoke awe in the mariner’s story reveal the positive inclination romantic poets had towards nature, and such depictions can be seen again and again in other works.  Not just Coleridge, but many romantic poets, authors, and artists repeatedly make use of the sublime in their work.  In “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” the significance of the sublime is played up as it is contrasted against the normal, ordinary wedding service.  The story the mariner tells continues to be extraordinary with more inclusions of the sublime, and the wedding continues to be customary, so much so that readers forget this setting of the poem until the end of it.

2 thoughts on “Why Even Include the Wedding?”

  1. I think that your take on the wedding setting is really interesting, it’s something I have always wondered about this poem. The contrast of the mundane and sublime is a good way to put it, even though weddings are supposed to be seen as holy or just generally very important, the story of the mariner takes precedent. I think that is definitely a romantic notion, that the beauty of nature and stories about it are more enjoyable than more “traditional” stories about love and marriage. Romanticism focuses on the relationship between humans and nature, like in “Tintern Abbey,” which is a poem reminiscing about years past in the land, not on the human to human relationships as much.

  2. Your thoughts on the wedding being the mundane to contrast the sublimity of the Mariner’s story are really interesting. I also find it intriguing that the Mariner is holding up the wedding guests instead of the actual bride and groom, so the wedding proceeds without them which creates a sort of tension with time. It also goes to show the Mariner’s power with keeping the listeners engaged. Even though something important is happening, they are forced to keep on listening. Weddings are also usually associated with comedies (I’m thinking of Shakespeare), so there’s a kind of dark humor considering how tragic the Mariner’s story is.

Comments are closed.