illustration of the Ancient Mariner in the ocean with an albatross tied around his neck

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," why are the words in this simile appropriate, considering the Mariner's actions? "And every soul it passed me by, / Like the whiz of my crossbow.”

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This simile comes at a crucial point in the poem, at the very end of Part III, when Death wins all the crew except for the Mariner, who is won by Life-in-Death. The simile is used to describe the deaths of the Mariner's fellow crewmen, who, being won by Death, then die, one by one, slumping to the ground. In this stanza, the Mariner questions where their souls actually flew to:

The souls did from their bodies fly,--

They fled to bliss or woe!

And every soul, it passed me by,

Like the whizz of my crossbow!

Clearly, the simile is very appropriate because the crew in a sense are killed because of the foolish act of the Mariner in killing the albatross in the first place. Thus, in the Mariner's mind, every soul that passes him by reminds him of his act that caused their deaths in the first place: him shooting his crossbow. We are presented with a Mariner who is haunted with guilt and indeed, has been won by Life-in-Death, for his life is consumed by his deed and the consequences of his actions.

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" tells the tale of the Mariner who failed to consider the consequences for his actions (prior to killing the albatross). Not only does the Mariner fail to consider the consequences, he fails to recognize the importance of nature in life.

In regards to the use of the simile (a comparison between two things using "like" or "as" to make the comparison), the Mariner failed to think about the albatross when he took aim, fired his crossbow, and killed the bird. Likewise, the souls which passed him did so with the same indifference he showed to the albatross.

Therefore, the simile is appropriate given it compares the Mariner's earlier actions (the firing of the crossbow at the albatross without concern) and applies it to how the souls pass the Mariner.

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