The Poem (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Three young gallants on their way to a wedding are stopped by an old gray-headed sailor who detains one of them. The ancient Mariner holds with his gaze a young man whose next of kin is being married in the church nearby and forces him to listen, against his will, to the old seaman’s tale. The ancient Mariner tells how his ship left the home port and sailed southward to the equator. In a storm the vessel was blown to polar regions of snow and ice. When an albatross flew out of the frozen silence, the crew hailed it as a good omen. The sailors made a pet of the albatross and regarded it as a fellow creature. One day the ancient Mariner killed the bird with his crossbow. The superstitious sailors believed bad luck would follow.
Fair winds blew the ship northward until it reached the equator, where it was suddenly becalmed and lay for days without moving. The thirsty seamen blamed the ancient Mariner and hung the dead albatross about his neck as a sign of his guilt.
In the distance a ship appeared, a skeleton ship that moved on the still sea where no wind blew. On its deck Death and Life-in-Death were casting dice for the crew and the ancient Mariner. As a result of the cast, Death won the two hundred crew members, who dropped dead one by one. As the soul of each dead sailor rushed by, the ancient Mariner was reminded of the sound of the rushing bolt of his crossbow when he shot the albatross. Life-in-Death won the ancient Mariner, who lived on...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Kirk. Unnamed church at which the poem opens and closes. This church, as well as other sites to which the Mariner alludes—such as a lighthouse, a hill, and a harbor bay—are evidently located in the Mariner’s native country. (“Kirk” is an old and once commonly used word for church in the British Isles, especially in Scotland.) The Mariner comes to understand his place within the universe as one of many creatures that deserve honor and respect, and the church imputes a moral tone to these ideas. Indeed, the Mariner is not simply a relativist, believing that whatever he wants to do is correct for a particular situation. His killing of the harmless albatross emerges from such an incorrect assessment. The church calls this assumption into question. Consequently, the Mariner is compelled to repeat his story to the Wedding-Guest, whom the Mariner believes to be in need of such a lesson.
Ship. Unnamed vessel on which the Mariner rides the waves of the sea, beginning in the third stanza of part 1. As his ship continues its voyage, the sea itself reflects the mood, the emotional intensity, of the ship’s sailors. The men have nowhere else to go so long as they remain at sea, and their ship thus becomes both home and prison to them. When the wind drops, and the ship is becalmed, the Mariner is reminded how confining the ship is. When the ship is trapped among ice floes, the Mariner allows himself to kill the...
(The entire section is 551 words.)
Topics for Discussion
Ideas for Reports and Papers
For Further Reference
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Barfield, Owen. What Coleridge Thought. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1971. Focuses on Coleridge’s theological and philosophical thought, including his self-proclaimed “passion for Christianity.”
Bloom, Harold, ed. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Introduction places the poem in the tradition of Cain and Wandering Jew stories, and essays include studies of the poem’s sources and symbolism.
Boulanger, James D., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Rime of the...
(The entire section is 439 words.)