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The Romantic Quest for Identity: Re-reading the First Part of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Gioiella Bruni Roccia


This paper proposes a re-reading of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetic masterpiece, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in an attempt to deepen the critical discussion about one of the major themes explored in the poem, that is the search for identity. In particular, this attempt will consist of a close reading of the first section of the ballad, inasmuch as it contains the fundamental pattern of the whole text. The conceptual framework underlying this analysis is based on Coleridge’s key principle of “the coincidence of opposites”, which the Author develops in his critical work Biographia Literaria. Indeed, the whole of Coleridge’s oeuvre is permeated by the idea of a dialectical tension between contrary forces, which struggle against each other so as to be joined, at last, in the dynamic unity of a superior harmony. In the light of this conception, the Romantic quest for identity takes the form of a struggle between two opposing forces: the impact of otherness with its confounding effects on the one side, and the irrepressible aspiration towards a unified self on the other. Such a conflicting dynamics appears to structure the entire ballad, starting from the incipit of the poem and involving all the characters – especially the two opposite figures of the ancient Mariner and the Wedding Guest.


S. T. Coleridge; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Romantic quest; identity; otherness

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