Specific lines in Coleridge's poem point to the despair that the mariner experienced. The reality of killing the bird, the slaughter of the albatross, cast heavy despair in the mariner. Upon his action, a note of despairing reflection is seen: " And I had done a hellish thing,/And it would work 'em woe." The mariner experiences a condition of despair that is seen with the imagery of "a hellish thing" and "work 'em woe." In the revelation of such an action, the mariner expresses a condition of despair in his understanding that "I had killed the bird." Further evidence of this state of despair could be seen with "'Twas as sad as sad could be." This is a statement in which despair is evident. In these moments, the mariner's realization as to what he has done and the implications of such an action helps to illuminate the overall meaning of the poem. It is only though this despair that the mariner can be redeemed. His redemption is the result of enduring the pain of despair that becoes his being upon the killing of the bird.
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the well-known source of the popular metaphorical reference to an albatross used to suggest a terrible burden or a curse of some sort. The idiom "wear an albatross around my neck" suggests that something is causing an enormous amount of stress which often leads to despair. For the mariner in Coleridge's poem, the actual albatross that he shoots comes to symbolize his own despair. He says, "Instead of the cross, the Albatross / About my neck was hung."
The wedding guest recognizes the mariner's despair when he refers to "the fiends that plague thee thus." The imagery here reveals the almost disease-like state of the mariner which is evident to the wedding guest. The mariner then attempts to reduce his burden by telling the wedding guest what is causing this “nightmare.” For the mariner, it is “LIFE-IN-DEATH.” The fact that this is a contradiction, because we have life or death and not both, reveals Coleridge’s use of oxymoron to emphasize the extent of the mariner’s despair.
The mariner explains his feelings. Initially, the winds drop, and he feels despair because the ship is “As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean.” He is suggesting that the ship could be mistaken for a painting because there is no wind to drive it forward. Apparently, the reason there is no wind is because he shot the albatross.
Simile is when unlike objects are compared using the words “like” or “as,” and a ship and a painting are certainly very different things. Coleridge uses simile when he makes this comparison (an actual ship to a mere painting). At the same time, he suggests that the ship is “idle” (lazy), which is characteristic of a person, and so the ship is personified. Therefore, this imagery identifies the cause of the mariner’s despair. For sailors, the absence of wind may be catastrophic, and all because the mariner was thoughtless.
All the events that follow which will leave his “soul in agony” are traced back to the shooting incident, which is seen to be the true cause of all the misfortune.