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

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The supernatural elements actually appear with the albatross, which has arrived in order to help guide the Mariner's ship through a fog bank.  When the Ancient Mariner kills the albatross, he has not only violated concepts of gratitude and hospitality, he has, on a whim, killed a living being that...

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The supernatural elements actually appear with the albatross, which has arrived in order to help guide the Mariner's ship through a fog bank.  When the Ancient Mariner kills the albatross, he has not only violated concepts of gratitude and hospitality, he has, on a whim, killed a living being that has come to same him and his ship.  I believe we are meant to see the albatross, in part, in a Christian context--like Christ, who came to earth to save us, the albatross arrives to save the mariners and their ship, and the reward for this generosity is his execution.

Nature itself becomes relentlessly supernatural after the killing of the albatross: the wind stops, temperatures climb, drinking water runs out.  These are not merely problems for a ship at sea; they are all life-threatening.  The crew, sensing its own complicity in the Mariner's action, decide to hang the albatross around his neck, an allusion to the concept of the Judeo-Christian scapegoat, who wears an amulet representing the sins of the people and is sent into the desert to die for everyone's sins.

As we know, several horrific supernatural elements seal the fate of the ship and crew--slimy snakes from the bottom of the ocean come to the ship; a ghost-ship, with the figures of Death and Death-in-Life, arrives and the entire crew dies (Death) but the Mariner remains alive (Death-in-Life).

The Mariner's salvation comes when he, unconsciously and full of pity, blesses the slimy sea snakes, and the albatross falls from his neck, an indication that Nature and/or God has forgiven his original sin of killing the albatross.  His penance, however, is not complete, for he has to keep telling his story, first to the hermit on the pilot boat and then to the Wedding Guest.  It's only after the repeated telling of this awful tale that the Ancient Mariner achieves some peace.  Unfortunately, the Wedding Guest is negatively affected by the tale, avoids the wedding, and wakes up the next day "a sadder and wiser man."

The supernatural elements, then, themselves contain elements of Nature's wrath at wanton cruelty, as well as implicitly Christian elements, that together create the retribution the Mariner suffers and the salvation he is offered at the end.

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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.
 
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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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