Date of Award

Spring 6-3-2016

Document Type

Honors Project

University Scholars Director

Dr. Jeff Keuss

First Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Douglas Thorpe

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Traynor Hansen


Illustration, philosophy of art, Romantic poets, the fantastic, Gustave Doré, scholarly criticism


The following paper, at its heart, consists of an exploration of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, as well as of three sets of its illustrations by Gustave Doré, Hunt Emerson, and Ed Young. This task is approached with a few central questions in mind, questions drawn both from Coleridge’s other philosophical works and, primarily, from the poem itself: is a work of art a “thought” or a “thing”? How do human beings, isolated in their physical bodies, communicate and connect? How might an exploration of the poem in conjunction with its illustrations – a layering of art upon art – shed some light on these questions? Throughout the paper I discuss the poem’s historical reception, and its move from being considered nonsensical and unintelligible to its current status as a masterpiece; Coleridge’s own concepts of art as a complex mediator between thought and thing, of the imagination as a living force, and of symbol as necessarily partaking, through its physical form, in the idea it represents; a brief overview of the three artists; the function of the poem’s explanatory gloss as, primarily, Coleridge’s evidence for the power of poetic communication over abstract, descriptive language, and of the futility of the human mind’s attempts to impose non-existent patterns onto reality; the function of the poem’s epigraph as an introduction into the unknowable realms of existence; and, finally, an in-depth analysis of the poem and, in conjunction, several of its illustrations, with an emphasis on the themes of isolation and communication, particularly as seen in the character of the Mariner, as well as upon the specific ways in which Coleridge and the artists themselves demonstrate the meaning-bearing power of art through their intentional use of rhythm, rhyme and diction, or space, line and color.


A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Scholars Program


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