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The Ancient Mariner Interpreted as a "Wanderer"

By Julian Scutts

On the "Centrifugal" and "Centripetal" aspects of a haunting figure

Coleridges Mariner interpreted as a Wanderer

In w hat sense may the Ancient Mariner be meaningfully described as a Wanderer? This question might strike one as odd in view of the fact that the w ord w anderer appears now here in the text of this poem. Even so, no less notable a critic that Geoffrey H. Hartman has described the Mariner as the Wanderer or Wandering Jew . 1 If w e agree that every poem must be treated w ithin the context of literary tradition, the fact that the poem elicits the critics use of the w ord Wanderer carries w ith it an authority w e should not lightly dismiss. The w ord Wanderer has both a centrifugal and centripetal aspect. In one sense of the w ord a w anderer deviates from a path or itinerary. In another sense he finds his goal intuitively in a journey of self- discovery. Cain and Ahasuerus are w anderers w ho have lost their bearings. The Prodigal Son or the Pilgrim discover their destination through a process of trial and error according to the established educational principle of learning by doing. Thus, the apparent contradiction posed by tw o distinct kinds of w anderer is capable of resolution if w e admit that a higher form of w andering subsumes and transcends its lesser or partial aspect. Let us then consider Coleridges Ancient Mariner in the light of the centrifugal and countervailing centripetal implications that inhere in the w ord Wanderer.

I. The Fusing of Archetypal Figures associated w ith the Wanderer

The concept of w andering has roots in religious thought concerning divine pow er, guidance and punishment. Wandering might therefore be defined w ith reference to its traditional connections w ith the w andering figures of the Bible, legend and classical mythology. In the course of time these have blended together in w estern literature. Geoffrey H. Hartman`s opinion that the motif of the Wandering Jew underlies the figure of the Ancient Mariner, Cain and other w anderers in Romantic literature is intuited rather than supported by detailed evidence or argument in his Essay ''Romanticism and Consciousness''. View ed historically, the legend of the Wandering Jew is a post-biblical invention inspired by the Church's negative attitude to Jew ry. It echoes nevertheless the motif of exile from the Promised Land and the biblical motif of w andering incorporating the figure of Cain (the biblical Cain w as not only a w anderer in a pejorative sense but the founder of civilisation). If a study of the w andering motif is to be based on w hat on might term a vocabulary of traditional w andering figures derived from the Bible, mythology and legend, w hat tests are to be applied to ensure the appropriate categorisation of ''Wanderer'' figures in Romantic literature? The entire exercise of categorising and labelling types of w anderer figures w ill prove to be of little value unless the phenomenon of ''introversion'' is taken into account. Throughout the development of literature, and particularly at periods of great historical change, the factor of ''introversion'' plays a major role in influencing the manner in w hich w riter treated culturally transmitted material. In the Romantic Period this factor noticeably influenced the manner of radically recasting w andering figures derived from periods subject to a predominant religious influence. Originally this story of Lutheran inspiration served to illustrate the dire consequences of transgressing against religious injunctions. Faust sold his soul to the Devil and w ent to Hell; there is little in the manner of the narrator's treatment of the story to suggest that anyone should feel sorry for him. Marlow 's Faust, though he also goes to Hell in the end, acquires the dignity of a tragic hero. Goethe's Faust, w ho avoids Hell altogether, becomes the hero of a divine comedy. Changes in the evaluation of content lead to formal changes in the story itself. To the extent that ''transgressing'', albeit as the prerequisite of repentance, is a Synonym of ''w andering'' in one of its principal senses, Goethe's Faust reflects the new positive significance w ith w hich Goethe and the Romantics invested the w ord ''Wanderer'' and all that became associated w ith it in their minds. Faust, like the Ancient Mariner, becomes the Prodigal Son. How ever, if Faust and the Ancient Mariner is a Cain or Ahasuerus turned Prodigal Son, in w hat sense can he be identified w ith the former? In a poetic context a figure such as Coleridge's Mariner is not a flat Personification of an idea (though a poem may take its inception from a germinal idea). It incorporates a nexus of associations the development of w hich may often be traced back to earlier w orks by the poet. For this reason it may prove enlightening to consider how the motif of the w anderer as exemplified in the figure of Cain had found expression in one of Coleridge's w orks w ritten before he composed The Ancient Mariner. In the Prefatory Note

of The Wanderings of Cain, Coleridge recalls Wordsw orth's thinly veiled dissatisfaction w ith the Second Canto of The Wanderings of Cain, w hich they had agreed to w rite in collaboration.

I hastened to him (Wordsw orth) w ith my manuscript- that look of humorous despondency fixed on his almost blank sheet of paper, and then its silent mock- piteous admission of failure struggling w ith the sense of the exceeding ridiculousness of the w hole scheme w hich broke up in a laugh and The Ancient Mariner w as w ritten instead.2

Is the connection betw een the abandonment of this joint project and genesis of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner merely coincidental? The follow ing evidence suggests that the Wanderings of Cain and The Ancient Mariner are thematically related and that the latter w as born of Coleridge's failure to complete the former. This being so, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner may be directly associated w ith the w ord ''to w ander,'' not only to the idea of w andering. Cain and his son Enos in The Wanderings of Cain stray onto a dismal plain not unlike the infernal sea described in The Ancient Mariner. Here they encounter a Shape '' embodying the spirit of Abel. It is as a ''Shape'' that the ship bearing Life-in-Death first appears to the Ancient Mariner (line152). Cain, like the legendary Wandering Jew , vainly w ishes for his ow n death. Coleridge's Cain, incorporating attributes of the Wandering Jew , anticipates the Ancient Mariner, w ho combines characteristics of both Cain and Ahasuerus, in as far as his cruel slaying of an innocent creature is analogous to Cains fratricide He commits an act of sacrilege like Ahasuerus in the medieval legend. The motif of the Crucifixion is evoked by a Repetition of the w ord ''cross'' in association w ith the Albatross and its death (of ''At length did cross an Albatross'' in line 63, ''With my cross-bow / I shot the Albatross'' in lines 81 and 82). The image of Death-in-Life and Death playing dice for possession of the dead also underlines this motif. The conventional symbolism associated w ith Cain and Ahasuerus accounts for much, but not everything, that happens in the story told in the Ancient Mariner. Both Cain and Ahasuerus are traditionally eternal w anderers w ith no prospect of finding their destination. The Ancient Mariner differs from them in that he is finally released from the curse that has befallen him and "returns to his ow n country". He incorporates the figure of the returning w anderer pre-eminently represented by Ulysses and the Prodigal son. In both cases, "w andering" finally proves a beneficial experience. Its punitive function is outw eighed by its ultimate rew ards, the w idening and enrichment of experience and the education that derives not from theory and precept but from subjection to the process of trial and error. The Wanderer sets out a fool, a prey to folly and its consequences. He becomes w ise, even sly like Ulysses, as a consequence of his exposure to experience. As w e may conclude from the stories of Saul and Ulysses, w andering in the biblical and Greek classical traditions establishes the prior condition for the Wanderer's enjoyment of a favoured status accompanied by pow er and responsibility. In that story w hich reveals the most generous attitude to w andering, the Prodigal Son betters his elder brother, w ho never ventures from his father's house, to become fit to take possession of his patrimony. Understood as the Prodigal Son, the Ancient Mariner seems to gain few tangible benefits from his harrow ing experiences. These, how ever, allow him to grow spiritually and morally and give him an authority that the reluctant hearer of his story cannot w ithstand. The w edding guest becomes a sadder and w iser man, w hile the Ancient Mariner, in becoming a prophet - implicitly a poet - reveals a truth, evident in many great w orks of literature, that the traveller's misfortune is the narrator's opportunity. Wandering journeys in biblical tradition constitute a Paradox. On the one hand, w e may infer from them that w andering, especially long periods of w andering such as that of the Israelites in the desert of Sinai, is the consequence of transgression or the erring proclivities of the human heart. On the other, the experience of w andering ultimately proves beneficial, for it supplies the opportunity of moral grow th and education \ and may even secure much greater benefits than those attained by "elder brothers" adhering to the path of rectitude.

A similar paradox attaches to adventure stories w ith no overt claim to carrying moral lesson. Adventure stories commonly tell of exciting events set in motion by an unforeseen misfortune w hich thrusts the unw ary traveller into a domain he w ould not have voluntarily entered. As both a moral allegory and adventure story, Robinson Crusoe presents a double paradox. How ever much Crusoe laments w hat he considers to be his ''sinful'' urge to w ander, he both as man of action and narrator derives immense benefits from his misfortune. As the narrator of his adventures, Crusoe embodies the figure of the w anderer-speaker w ith its ancient precedents in such figures as Ulysses and Moses (in rabbinical tradition Moses is not only seen as a participant in the events described by the Pentateuch accounts but also as the (human) author of the narrative itself, a Levite, a divinely inspired poet; indeed, some of the most lyrical passages in the Pentateuch are attributed to Moses as dramatic speaker). 3 The greater part of the Odyssey is occupied by passages attributed to Ulysses as the principal dramatic speaker in the text. The most ''fantastic'' or improbable events referred to in the body of the text are those w hich Ulysses himself relates. The w orld described by Ulysses is primarily a mythical w orld occupied by such beings as the Cyclops and Circe. Prolonged, uninterrupted, monologues reveal patterns similar to those informing dreams and dreamlike states of mind. Travellers (inside and outside literary context) are know n for their ''tall stories'', the absolute veracity of

w hich may be called into question if moral criteria are applied, hence the highly ambivalent status of the w anderer-speaker as w itness, entertainer and suspected liar (viz. the miles gloriosus in classical times and the Baron von Mnchhausen). He is thus alienated from society, set apart from fellow s, burdened by the exceptional nature of w hat he has to tell and the compulsion to recount his story. Both as a poet-visionary and as a traveller he is an outsider.

2. Dualism and Dichotom ies: The Rim e of the Ancient Mariner

The Metaphor equating the poet w ith an alienated traveller finds its basis both in unaw areness of the effects travel may have on an individual's psychology and in the picture of the believer as an alien travelling homew ard in the Bible and religious w ritings (cf. I Peter; 2,11). The poet like the believer is conscious of a fundamental divide betw een the physical w orld and a transcendent reality beyond it. Baudelaire's concept of the duality betw een ''Spleen'' and ''Ideal'' is greatly influenced by the concept of the duality betw een the flesh and the spirit in religious thought (cf. 2 Corinthians; 4,16,5,10). Fundamentally the same duality underlies ancient mythical accounts of demigods w andering the earth. In The Epic of Gilgamesh the exact proportions of the hero's divine and human constituency are given.

O Gilgamesh, lord of Kullab, great is thy praise. This w as the man to w hom all things w ere know n; this w as king w ho knew all countries of the w orld. He w as w ise, he saw mysteries and knew secret things, he brought us a tale of the days before the flood. He w ent on a long journey, w as w eary, w orn-out w ith labour, and returning engraved on a stone the w hole story. When the gods created Gilgamesh they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun endow ed him w ith beauty, Adad the god of the storm endow ed him w ith courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others. Tw o thirds they made him god and one-third man. 4

The Ancient Mariner incorporates aspects and characteristics of the archetypal w anderers of antiquity. Like them he is subject to the overriding influence of higher pow ers often identified as the planets in the original sense of the w ord (the seven w anderers - the sun, the moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn). The movements of the ''cold earth w anderers'' participate in cosmic movement. As the follow ing quotation makes clear, Gilgamesh's mother holds Shamash (the Sun) accountable for her son's impulse to w ander:

O Shamash, w hy did you give this restless heart to Gilgamesh, my son; w hy did you give it? You have moved him and now and now he sets out on a long journey to the land of Humbaba, to travel an unknow n road and fight a strange battle 5

In no reading of The Ancient Mariner can one overlook the relationship betw een the Mariner, the Wanderer, and the higher pow ers represented by the sun, moon, the albatross and the w ind. This relationship forms w hat can be pictured as a vertically oriented polarity betw een the horizontal plane of the earth and the region of the sky w hich, together w ith the many polarities and parallels contained in the poem, contributes to its dense and complex structure. The slaying of the albatross, w hich combines associations w ith Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the poetic genius in one symbol, signals the loss of the modern (sentimental) poet's sense of being harmoniously at one w ith his source of inspiration. With no certainty of an objective correlative to the Wanderer's innate divinity, the Mariner is exposed to the heady and terrifying experience of solipsistic isolation. What brings him (or rather Coleridge) the means of breaking out of his despair and isolation is the discovery of the mind's inherent objectivity in thought, language and poetic expression. On a symbolic level, the Mariner experiences a transition from death to a new life. In this light w e should consider another aspect of the Mariner's affinity w ith the archetypal w anderers of antiquity. The Mariner, like Gilgamesh, Ulysses and Aeneas, enters the nether realm of death. The sun, traditionally a symbol of life and regeneration, represents stasis and death in Coleridges poem. Apollo, the sun god, w as not only the god of poetry in classical myth, but also the bringer of pestilence. The colours displayed by Life-in-Death - red, yellow and w hite carry associations both w ith the sun and the plague. In a manner consistent w ith a long poetic and religious tradition the sea in The Ancient Mariner combines associations w ith death and the renew al of life, as in the story of the Flood and the exodus of the Israelites through the Red Sea. In Goethe's ''Wanderers Sturmlied'' the central symbol of w ater is supported by allusions to the (classical) deluge myth. Water, traditionally a symbol of God's creative pow er becomes an image symbolising the flow of poetic utterance in the poetry of Goethe and the Romantics. The association of death and w ater, implicit in biblical accounts of the Flood and the drow ning of Pharaoh's men in the Red Sea, is evident in passages in Shakespearean

drama. The nightmarish element in The Ancient Mariner is also found in Clarence's dream in Richard III. In Ariel's song describing the skull and skeletal remains of drow ned man, the relics of death appear as things of beauty. The idea of an aesthetic transformation of deaths destructive and deforming effects later finds fuller expression in Baudelaire's ''Le Mauvais Mone In The Ancient Mariner the nightmare quality pervading the poem belies the fact that the events described in the narrative reflect Coleridge's success in achieving as aesthetic resolution of the tensions to w hich he w as subject w hen w riting the poem. The outw ard events The Ancient Mariner formally devolve on moral issues. He commits a sin and incurs guilt. How ever, the course of events referred to in The Ancient Mariner do not reveal the outw orking of justice according to any normally recognised criteria. One critic is notew orthy in his attempt to explain the poem's apparent illogical nature. Edw ard E. Bostetter points out in his essay "The Nightmare World of 'The Ancient Mariner' ", the subtitle given to the poem in the edition of The Lyrical Ballads published in 1800 w as ''A Poet's Reverie''. 6 In the eighteenth century the reality of the unconscious mind w as becoming recognised as a principle governing not only General human psychology but also the process of literary creation. The use of imagery and symbolism in poetry reflected this change, w ith the result that the poem resists reduction to tidy explication or exegesis. While polysemy is a characteristic of poetry in all ages, a new aw areness of the nature and operation of the subconscious mind affected the formal organisation of poems such as The Ancient Mariner. The attempts to imitate the synthesising operation of the mind in creating images during dreams or dreamlike mental conditions encouraged w hat might be termed a thickening or clustering of poetic imagery. Over and above their function of recalling ideas and stimulating a mental picture, images assume a function analogous to that of motifs in music - that is, they are to be appreciated as elements of structure, uniquely defined by their context w ithin the organic w hole constituting a poem. The free mode of musical association often characterises literary w orks concerned w ith the liberation of mind and spirit from subjection to the exigencies of the material w orld, and w ith the ultimate freedom associated w ith the idea that physical death releases the soul from its material limitations. To the extent that death is considered to be both the ultimate negation of physical life and the passage to spiritual liberation and fulfilment, it is a negation that affirms its apparent antithesis. The concept of w andering w ith its manifold associations w ith death, transition, interrelated movements of mind and body etc. implies not only epic subject matter but also a principle of organisation impelled by a principle like that identified by Goethe in his theories concerning polarity (viz Steigerung) that at once poses and reconciles contraries. German Romanticism w as inaugurated by Friedrich Schlegel's call for a new form of poetry, w hich he referred to as Universalpoesie, that w as to reconcile Classicism w ith modernity. 7 William Blake also strove to reconcile dualities, though in a manner that accorded w ith religious mysticism rather than by a frontal intellectual assault.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is typically Romantic in expressing an intense concern w ith polaric relationships. Primarily for this reason it is characterised by a strong ironic element exemplified in w hat is probably the most celebrated line in the poem: ''Water, w ater everyw here / Nor any drop to drink.'' (121,122). The motif of polarity is enhanced by reference to the geographic poles and the ''Polar Spirits'' (Gloss to lines 393 - 405). A number of the polaric oppositions found in the poem are based on tradition. Traditional symbols are treated so as to accord w ith the aesthetic purposes of a Romantic poet. Just as the sun carries predominantly negative associations, the moon the token of Celestial Marys healing influence, carries those that are unambiguously positive. (Lines 292 -296). The figure of Mary as intercessor is assigned an analogous role in the depiction of Faust's entry into Heaven at the end of the dramatic action in Faust II. Those w ho directly associate the use of symbols originating in religious traditions w ith confessions of faith should enquire w hy tw o Protestant poets should aw ard Mary such great significance. In The Ancient Mariner the Queen of Heaven and Death-in-Life form an antithetic pair analogous to that formed by Circe and Penelope in The Odyssey or the Whore of Babylon and the Bride of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation.

3. The Return of the Prodigal Son, or the Poet's quest to Reconcile Polarities and Tensions

The Ancient Mariner is a poem w hich contrasts antipodes and opposites, w hile at the same time inducing a number of such antitheses to merge into one figure or symbol. For this reason it is impossible to equate the Mariner w ith the Wandering Jew or the figure of Christ alone, though elements connect w ith both are part of the Mariner's composition. The figure of Ahasuerus is itself highly ambivalent, for Ahasuerus is a co-sufferer w ith Jesus. In Goethes poetic fragment ''Der Ew ige Jude'' the Wandering Jew is little less than a transfiguration of Jesus. As w e noted elsew here, the poets of the Romantic period freely availed themselves of religious symbols identifying Jesus w ith the poetic imagination, Mary w ith the poet's anima or true identity and the Passion w ith the process of literary and poetic creation. Of all w anderer figures the Prodigal Son is perhaps the most inclusive - and therefore the most apt - designation of the Ancient Mariner. Remembering that The Ancient Mariner reveals Coleridge's desire for an aesthetic rather than a purely intellectual resolution of the tensions to w hich he w as subject w hen w riting the poem, as in his life generally, w e w ill

note some striking similarities betw een the language of the New Testament and that of Plotinus w hen referring respectively to the Prodigal Son and Jupiter. In his treatise ''On the Intellectual Beauty'' Plotinus refers to Jupiter as one w ho returns to his father's house.

The vision has been of God in travail of a beautiful offspring, God engendering a universe w ithin himself in a painless labor and -rejoiced in w hat he has brought into being, proud of his children - keeping all closely by him, for the pleasure he has in this radiance and in theirs. Of this offspring-all beautiful, but most beautiful those that have remained w ithin-only one has become manifest w ithout; from him (Zeus, sovereign over the visible universe), the youngest born, w e may gather, as from some image, the greatness of the Father and of the brothers that remain w ithin the Father's house 9

We need not here broach questions concerning Plotinus's indebtedness to the concept of Christ as the visible expression of the Father. It is enough to note that the striking convergence of New Testament verbal imagery and that of Plotinus w as recognised by European thinkers and poets from the age of the Renaissance onw ards and w as fully consistent w ith a symbiosis of the Biblical and Greek classical images concerning the movement of persons and objects. Both Plotinus in ''On the Intellectual Beauty'' and Dante in ''The Letter to Can Grande della Scala'' identified the goal of the soul's journey the union of the soul w ith its divine source and ground of being, God or ''the One.'' Though Dante identifies the beatific vision, the consummation of the Christian pilgrimage journey, w ith a supreme expression of beauty, Plotinus equated the Good and the Beautiful in a manner that orthodox religious might consider questionable, if not outright dangerous. The Plotinian notion that the act of contemplation creates an ontological unity embracing the contemplator and the contemplated finds an obvious parallel in w hat John Keats termed "negative capability" and other expressions of Romantic strategies to comprehend some relationship betw een the poet represented as observer and the objects of his contemplation. Let us now consider the figure of the Ancient Mariner as an expression of poetic "w andering" motivated by an impulse to reconcile contraries and resolve the conundrum of the Wander-Poet"s dual identity rooted in the poet's - here Coleridge's - biography and the process of creating poetry.. In terms of symbols derived from religious traditions, how is the figure both Ahasuerus and the Prodigal Son? And if the Ancient Mariner is in some sense the Prodigal Son, in w hat sense has he gained? If w e equate gain w ith any purely tangible benefits enjoyed by the Mariner at the end of the poem, w e might suppose very little. As Edw ard E. Bostetter points out, the Mariner himself finally remains alienated from the w orld and society and produces alienation in those he meets. As a repentant sinner he show s few signs of joy any more than Coleridge, as a private individual w ith an affinity w ith the Prodigal Son, could rid himself of the mental anguish in w riting poetry understood as a means of self-therapy. In a parallel instance, David Holbrook treats ''Fern Hill'' as an expression of Dylan Thomas' psychological ''schizoid'' condition. 10 Writing' Fern Hill'' did not secure any lasting cure of Thomas' mental ailment, but is it any less great a poetic achievement for that? The gain, w hether w e are speaking of ''Fern Hill'' or The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the poetic achievement itself. A great hindrance to an objective critical approach to The Ancient Mariner stems from the very w ealth of extra-literary topics and themes that are readily associated w ith it - e.g. neo-platonic philosophy, Calvinist theology, the effect of drugs on the consciousness, and so on. How ever interesting and enlightening a discussion of such topics may be, it does not itself provide a basis for assessing The Ancient Mariner as a poetic achievement. Bostetter goes so far as to deny the possibility that the poem is at all accessible to logical analysis. The density and complexity of the poems imagery and structure render the w ork intractable to paraphrase. Thus he rejects Warrens contention that the poem derives its unity from the neo-platonic concept of ''One Life''. 11 This, Bostetter concedes, furnishes the ''moral tag'' w hich Coleridge gave to The Ancient Mariner, but in his view , the ostensible message of the poem is belied by poet's nightmare vision of a w orld become the playground of malign forces. Bostetter departs from objective internal criticism w hen he inveighs against the allegedly unfair dealings of God w ith human beings or takes to task the ruling pow er in the universe as presented in The Ancient Mariner, w hen speculating w hether the Mariner has gained at the end of his harrow ing experience. He w rites:

The Mariner's act may have been a sin, but it made him important to God and men alike; in this sense he w as rew arded rather than punished. 12

One can hardly do justice to the pow er and mystery of The Ancient Mariner if one treats the poem as one that is ''about'' a great idea or about the Mariner. Coleridge's choice of theme w as determined by the need to create a poem ''of pure imagination, as Bostetter puts it, to w rest beauty from the raw material afforded by nightmare visions and hallucinations. Here it is important to consider the incident that marks the turning-point of the poem, w hich is reached w hen the Mariner in a trance- like state (''unaw are''), blesses the w ater snakes he sees by the light of the moon. The aspects of the sw imming snakes that deeply affect the Mariner are their motion and their beauty. The motion of the snakes symbolises and epitomises the principle of motion both in external nature and in the poetic mind. As earlier

discussions have suggested, Goethe, Schiller and the Romantics equated motion w ith a vital force in nature and all life. Beauty meant for Schiller and Keats the reconciling principle that should - and finally w ould - reconcile humanity's moral and aesthetic strivings. The Mariner's visual encounter w ith the w ater snakes poses the counterpoint of his act of killing the albatross, an act that likew ise sprang from subconscious impulses. It is ironic that snakes should provide the Mariner w ith the occasion at w hich he w as granted relief from the curse that had befallen him and his crew , in view of the role ascribed to the Serpent in the story of Eden, though Moses had brazen serpents raised in the w ilderness as a means of curing those about to die from snakebite. An allusion to this incident recorded in the Pentateuch w ill not appear out of place if w e accept The Ancient Mariner as the product of a merging of basic allegorical journeys rooted in biblical and ancient Greek w ritings. To conclude my argument, the "Wanderer", incorporating and merging the motifs of Ahasuerus and the Prodigal Son, reflects not only Coleridge's concern w ith the Ancient Mariner as a dramatic character, his psychological make-up etc., but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, the very processes that mould and inform the poem in its entirety. Rilke came as close as did any other w riter w e have considered to establishing a clear connection betw een the figure of the Prodigal Son and the artist's quest to mould language aesthetically in the last pages of Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Sketchings of Malte Laurids Brigge). The figure of the Prodigal Son is here a metaphor that illuminates the process of artistic creativity. The artist's ''return to God'' is not to be understood in purely religious terms, as w hen it is applied to descriptions of mystical experience. It entails the labour involved w henever artists and poets express an inw ard vision in a external medium thanks to - not despite of - the latter's resistant nature. In the poet's case this medium is language. (See the conclusions draw n by Hans Dietrich Borchert, a critic concerned w ith the figure of the Prodigal Son in Rilke in: ''Das Problem des Verlorenen Sohnes'' bei Rilke). 13


1. Geoffrey H. Hartman, "Romanticism and 'Anti-Self-consciousness"', Romanticism and Consciousness, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1970), 46 - 56.

2. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Prefatory Notes on The Wanderings of Cain, 1828. The w ords cited are found at the end of the first paragraph of the Prefatory Note.

3. Luther noted the lyricism of the song of Moses and the Israelites in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus. Psalm 90 is traditionally attributed to Moses.

4. The Epic of Gilgamesh, translated in English by N.K. Sanders (Harmondsw orth: Penguin Classics, 1960) p. 59.

5. Ibid., 73.

6. Edw ard E. Bostetter, "The Nightmare World of "The Ancient Mariner" in: Other Poems, ed. Alan R. Jones and William Tydeman (Tiptree, 1973) pp. 185 - 199.

7. Friedrich Schlegel, 116th "Athenum"-Fragment. 1798 - 1800.

8. From the English translation of The Enneads, revised by B.S. Page, 1956 in "On the Intellectual Beauty" reprinted in Critical Theory Since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams (New York: Harcourt Brace Vovanovich, 1971), p. 112.

9. Ibid., p. 112.

10. David Holbrook, The Code of Night (London: Athlone Press, 1972).

11. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, w ith an Essay by Robert Penn Warren (New York, 1946).

. 12. "The Nightmare World..", p. 193.

13. Hans Heinrich Borcherdt, "Das Problem des 'Verlorenen Sohnes bei Rilke", Worte und Werte / Bruno Markw ardt zum 60. Geburstag, ed. Erdmann and Alfons Eich