The Ancient Mariner
The Ancient Mariner, a somewhat mysterious figure. The poem deals with two separate times, the time of the voyage and the time of the Mariner’s retelling. Facts helping to date the time of the voyage are that the Mariner uses a crossbow rather than a firearm and that his ship is the first ever to sail into the Pacific Ocean, thereby preceding Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage of 1520. He is evidently a Catholic, because he twice calls on the Virgin Mary and also invokes other saints. As for the time of the retelling, there is only a general sense that the Mariner is perceived as belonging to an earlier generation. There is not enough information about the wedding to know whether it was Catholic or Protestant, and the vesper bell toward the end of the poem could belong to either faith. The bassoon mentioned toward the beginning, however, would not have been possible before the sixteenth century. In a fragment of conversation recovered in the twentieth century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge once remarked that the Mariner was in fact a young man while on board the ship and that he was retelling the story fifty years later.
The Wandering Jew
The Wandering Jew, a traditional figure in European literature. He is a blasphemer condemned to wander the earth until the second coming of Christ because he had mocked Christ while He was bearing the Cross on his way to Calvary. The legend was believed in late medieval Europe, and several accounts of supposed meetings with the Wandering Jew were published, beginning in the sixteenth century. Several writers of the Romantic period then took up the idea, making it central to their theme of social and spiritual alienation, a burden felt by Coleridge also. Coleridge was himself known to be an incessant talker.
The Wedding Guest
The Wedding Guest, one of three “gallants,” or fashionable young men particularly attentive to women, whom the Mariner accosts while they are on their way to the wedding. He is apparently the bride’s brother. Throughout the poem, the Wedding Guest (when allowed to speak) represents a normal but naïve view of reality. Eventually, he is decisively influenced by the Mariner’s extraordinary revelations. Members of the wedding include the bride, the bridegroom, the guests, and the musicians.
The ship’s crew
The ship’s crew, at the beginning numbering some two hundred men, including a helmsman and the Mariner’s nephew. The crew is later joined by an albatross of uncertain dimensions and color who is obviously more than just a bird. The poem does not say so, but there was a common superstition among sailors at this time that albatrosses were reincarnations of sailors who had died at sea. If so, then it was in fact “a Christian soul”; if not, then it was (like the water snakes) to be cherished simply because it was a living thing and therefore an example of God’s creative power. By wantonly killing the albatross, the Mariner affronts God.
The spirits, who include the mysterious Pole Spirit. The spirits resemble angels in being wholly immaterial but have no regular place in Christian cosmology. These are the “invisible beings” referred to in the poem’s epigraph. They illustrate that however much one may come to know about the material world, the spiritual one is far more varied and more significant; it remains unknowable and elusive.
The Ghost Ship’s crew
The Ghost Ship’s crew, two hideous characters, Death and Life-in-Death (of whom additional details are given in the 1798 version of the poem). They play at dice for the ship’s crew, and Death wins all of them except the Mariner. He is won by Life-in-Death and thereby condemned to the eternal wanderings that follow. It is important to note that the Mariner’s fate is decided by a vehicle of random chance, not by any kind of divine judgment. Having denied God’s continuous governance of the world by blaspheming against His chief manifestation, life, the crew and Mariner find themselves in a world without Providence, exemplified by the failure of the winds, which are not simply forces of nature but part of the divine plan to sustain life on Earth. Before he is allowed to leave the ship, the Mariner must learn that life in all forms is sacred.
the Pilot’s Boy
the Pilot’s Boy, and
the Hermit, who rescue the Mariner in a small boat. The crew are dead, the Ghost Ship and the angelic spirits have disappeared, and the ship has gone down like lead. It is not clear how they fit into the poem, and few critics are able to say more about them than that the Hermit in part resembles poet William Wordsworth. Though the Mariner asks the Hermit for spiritual cleansing, it is the judgment of Life-in-Death that prevails.