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In Part 1, the mariner stops the wedding guest, against the will of the guest, and begins to tell him his tale. The mariner tells how his ship sailed south toward the South Pole and found themselves stuck in the ice. About the same time that they broke free of the ice, the albatross came around and the mariner shot it with his crossbow. In Part 2, the ship has turned around and is headed north. At first, the crew is angry with the mariner for having shot the bird because, they said, it had brought the mist and snow. Then as the crew continues its journey northward, they get into a period of no wind to propel the ship and they are stalled while quickly running low on supplies. Now they blame the mariner for killing the bird that they say brought them luck, so they hang the bird around his neck. In Part 3, the men are all dying on the ship because of lack of food and water while the hot sun bakes them. The mariner sees a phantom ship approach carrying two figures: Death and Life-in-Death. Then every man on the ship, except for the mariner, dies and his soul leaves his body. The mariner continues to live (because Life-in-Death) "won" him in the dice-toss with Death. As he lives, he begins to undergo a transformation from seeing nature as ugly to seeing it as beautiful. Part IV: the transformation continues as the mariner's words describing nature around him go from such expressions as "slimy things" to "rich attire". As soon as the mariner sees the true beauty in nature and comes to appreciate that all living things deserve respect, the albatross falls off his neck. In Part V, the Polar Spirit begins to move the ship and the mariner falls down in a faint. While in that faint, two fellow spirits talk about the mariner saying that he has paid some penance for his sin of killing the innocent bird, but he has more penance to pay. Part VI continues that conversation as the spirit that was moving the ship leaves and the real wind takes over propelling the ship, along with spirit-propelled dead crew mates, toward home. As the ship gets near the harbor, each dead crew member's spirit leaves his body and this time, forgives the mariner. Once in the harbor, a boat approaches. In the boat are the pilot of the boat, his son, and a holy man (hermit). In the last part, part VII, as the boat approaches the mariner's ship, a loud noise is heard from under the sea and the mariner's ship sinks. The mariner is rescued and asks the holy man for forgiveness. The mariner now tells the wedding guest that his life-long penance is to wander the rest of his life and to tell his story to the occasional person. He knows which person to stop when he sees something in the face of the passerby. The mariner says that he has learned the lesson that all of God's creatures should be respected.
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