Poets and the Arctic Landscape

The Arctic landscape inspired poets with a landscape that is at once dramatic and barren.

"I also became a poet, and for one year lived in a Paradise of my own creation; I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where the names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated." Walton, Frankenstein

Walton's letters explain how his career as an explorer was proceeded by experiments in poetry, and his attraction to the Arctic exploration is at once an alternative to and a continuation of these poetic leanings. The arctic landscape inspired poets with a landscape that is at once dramatic and barren. In Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, it is the setting for the Mariner's killing of the albatross:

The ice was here, the ice was there, 
The ice was all around: 
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled, 
Like noises in a swound! 

The ghostlike monotony of the place becomes the court for the mariner's spiritual trial; as with Walton and Dr Frankenstein, Coleridge's choice of the Arctic as a setting is driven by its connection with human endurance and aspiration and its ability to wear down or challenge these. In the illustration, the position of the ship, walled in between shelves of ice in a narrow channel itself filled with crags of ice, exemplifies the danger and difficulty that Armundsen and his expedition experienced in the final stages of their trip through the Northwest passage. Here, though, the harsh, cragged ice in the foreground and the sharp lines of the mountain of ice visible at the rear, contrast ominously with the smooth, circular lines of the rainbow and albatross in the centre, anticipating the suffering that the mariner will lay himself open to following his fateful act with the crossbow. 

Illustration (left): Gustave Doré, ‘Ice Ship’, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illus. Gustave Doré
(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1876).