Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a first-generation Romantic poet. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is filled with many of the characteristics of Romantic writing, including a respect for nature (the sin of killing the albatross), melancholy (as seen with the mariner's state of mind), and especially the supernatural—anything beyond the natural world. While today's reader might consider witches and vampires to be supernatural, Coleridge incorporates spirits, angels, and ghosts; he also includes supernatural powers.
The poem is filled with the supernatural. When the ship is becalmed (a punishment for killing of the albatross), the crew is dying of thirst:
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink. (118-119)
Initially the reader might think that the mariner is delirious because of his terrible thirst, but he is not. First he notes strange lights shining in the water. Then he reports that a spirit is following the ship:
And some in dreams assured were
Of the spirit that plagued us so:
Nine fathom deep he had followed us... (128-130)
Side notes indicate that some of the crew members have dreamt of this spirit—it is that of the dead albatross. Next, the mariner sees ships approaching:
A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist! ...
It plunged and tacked and veered […] (150, 153)
[I] cried, A sail! a sail! (156-157)
Initially it seems as if the crew may be saved, but as the ship gets closer, what they see brings no relief. The first hint that this is not a normal ship is that it is sailing without the wind, for the sea is still becalmed. Then as the ship grows closer, the mariner sees that as it passes in front of the setting sun, the sun's rays shine through the boards of the ship: for what approaches is "the skeleton of a ship." Using personification, the sun is described as looking through the ship:
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered... (176)
As the ghost ship approaches, the mariner can see that the sails are like cobwebs; then he observes the ghost ship's crew—a woman and her mate:
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a DEATH? and are there two?
Is DEATH that woman's mate? (184-186)
The woman is described with amazing imagery.
Her skin was as white as leprosy... (189)
The mariner notes:
The Night-Mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she... (190)
These two supernatural beings have come to the dying crew. And as the mariner watches, the two gamble for the souls of the crew members. Life-in-Death raises a triumphant cry that she has won, and the "spectre-bark" (ghost ship) leaves in a flash. Two hundred crew members drop dead on the deck (souls that Death won), leaving only the mariner alive.
For days he feels the curse of the eyes of the dead men. Finally the mariner praises nature and is blessed. It rains; the wind returns. In that moment, the dead men stand (inhabited by "angelic spirits") to sail the ship. Then two spirits speak as the mariner rests in a daze. Ultimately the ship returns to the mariner's "native country." When it suddenly sinks, the mariner is thrown into the water and is rescued by a small boat in which travels a holy man ("hermit"), who pardons him.
The supernatural comes to the mariner once more on land—as part of his penance...
...till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns. (581-582)
The lesson the mariner has learned during his journey and supernatural encounters is:
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast. (609-610)