Posted by: caitlinmonahan | December 6, 2011

Gustave Doré’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

In my English 231 class on British Romanticism we have been reading poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner from 1798, a gothic poem about a ghost ship and its captain.  I greatly enjoyed reading this poem and found it very enchanting and interesting, and was even more intrigued when I noticed the illustration that was offered along with the text.  The illustration was by Gustave Doré, the same illustrator of the book we looked at in class, Doré’s London. The illustration, as well as the poem, really stood out in my mind and I found myself examining the poem and illustration as we have been examining photography in class.


It is a hauntingly beautiful image of the ghost ship surrounded by ice, a quite different scene than the street images I had previously associated with Doré.  This illustration is beautiful for several reasons: its symmetry and even distribution of black and white as well as its ethereal qualities.  In the poem, the crew of the Mariner’s ship drops dead after he hastily kills an Albatross, causing angelic spirits to come temporarily bring them back to life.  I believe this image foreshadows the coming of the spirits, as the ice seems to be alive and moving, and the Albatross still soars in the sky.

This image conjures up ideas of religion, as well.  There is a defined halo in the sky above the ship; just like pictures we have seen of people with halos above their heads to signify godliness.  Here is symbolizes that the cursed ship is in fact protected by holy spirits.

Upon further research, I found an entire collection of Doré illustrations that accompany the Rime.  This one in particular reminded me of the London images we discussed in class:


It depicts the happy, bustling wedding scene from which the Mariner abducts the wedding-guest so that he may tell him his story.  It is quite a lot like the image of Ludgate Hill in that Doré also chooses to create the illusion of people on top of people on top of people with little to no space between, and seeming to go on forever.  I believe Gustave Doré chose to use this same aesthetic as seen in the busy London streets to depict the jubilance and abundance of life that existed at the wedding which the Mariner interrupted in contrast to the vast emptiness of the ocean, especially when the crew was gone and only the Mariner remained.

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