Discuss the supernatural elements in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ancient mariner's encounter with the supernatural begins soon after he, for no discernible reason, kills the albatross that helped his crew free themselves from entrapment in the ice.

The sailors believe that the winds that send the ship into equatorial waters are under the control of spirits bent on punishing them for the killing of the bird. The ship is becalmed, and the men die torturous deaths from thirst as they watch two spirits on a ghost ship gamble for their souls. The mariner's punishment is to outlive them and be trapped with their corpses for a time, knowing that he has caused their suffering.

Eventually, the mariner sees the beauty and purpose of nature. When he experiences this epiphany, the dead sailors are reanimated and sail the ship close to the mariner's home.  His troubles, however, do not end there; he nearly loses his life in a whirlpool that claims the remnants of the ship. The mariner faces a protracted punishment: he must confess his sin over and over to anyone he meets to communicate what he has learned:

He prayeth well, who loveth well 
Both man and bird and beast. 
 
He prayeth best, who loveth best 
All things both great and small; 
For the dear God who loveth us, 
He made and loveth all. 
Samuel Taylor Coleridge uses supernatural elements of animated winds, spirits, and corpses to explore themes of sin, punishment, atonement, and redemption.
 
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This literary ballad clearly contains many fantastical elements that are obviously supernatural. Important to note is the way that Coleridge in this poem creates a spirit that embodies Nature itself, called the Polar Spirit, that pursues the ship and rains down suffering and punishment on the vessel because of the thoughtless act of the Mariner in killing the albatross. However, arguably these supernatural elements are used as a way of presenting the torments that guilt can inflict on the human soul and the terrible expiation necessary for those who sin against nature in such a shocking fashion.

Of course, the pain and guilt experienced by the Mariner are a product of the pain and guilt of Coleridge himself, as suffered through his opium addiction, and so we are left to wonder if the fantastical elements that feature so strongly in this poem are dreamt up out of the opium-fevered imagination of its author. Either way, the supernatural elements show the force of The Polar Spirit, representing Nature, and the danger of taking Nature for granted.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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