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Explain the following lines from the poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."  The...

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rozh | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted February 26, 2013 at 6:19 PM via web

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Explain the following lines from the poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." 

The souls did from their bodies fly, -

They fled to bliss or woe!

And every soul, it pass'd me by,

Like the whizz of my cross-bow!

I fear thee, ancient Mariner!

I fear thy skinny hand!

And thou art long, and lank, and brown,

As is the ribbed sea-sand.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 26, 2013 at 7:16 PM (Answer #1)

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In Part 1, the mariner kills an albatross. In Part 2, his crew blame him for killing a good omen. When the fog gets thicker, they agree with the killing, thinking that the albatross was actually a bad omen, having brought the fog. But when the ship stalls in calm waters, the mariner's men become frustrated and blame the mariner, so they hang the dead albatross around his neck. 

In Part 3, a ship approaches which they initially think is fortuitous. But as it nears, the mariner realizes that the approaching ship travels "Without a breeze, without a tide," indicating something mysterious. The ship is like a skeleton. The two on board this ghostly ship are Death and Life-in-Death. They play dice for the ship's crew. Life-in-Death wins the mariner. Death claims the crew and the men drop dead "Too quick for groan or sigh," and as this happens, the mariner sees or feels their souls pass by him like arrows: 

The souls did from their bodies fly,-

They fled to bliss or woe!

And every soul, it passed me by,

Like the whizz of my cross-bow! 

Hearing this story, the wedding guest believes the mariner was killed as well. Therefore he would be talking to a ghost. He fears the mariner's "skinny" skeleton-like hand is the hand of a ghost. However, the mariner reassures him that he did not die and this is significant to the overall context of the poem because the mariner's penance is to travel around the world and tell his tale, thereby living a Life-in-Death. 

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