In the poem "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," why did the mariner kill the albatross? What was his intention?

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The killing of the albatross is a central element of Coleridge's poem. The "moral" of the poem, its lesson, is stated very overtly near the end: "He prayeth best, who loveth best / All things both great and small." That is, to be approved by God, one must love all of God's creatures. Respect for nature is the central theme of the poem. 

The killing of the albatross sets in motion the "penance" that the mariner must do to pay for his sin. Part of what makes his sin so heinous is that there is no reason for him to shoot the bird. It is simply a random act of unkindness. When the bird first appears, the ship is stuck in the ice in its journey southward. After the sailors befriend the bird and feed it, the ship breaks through the ice, and the sailors believe the bird to have been a good omen or an agent of fortune. The wind blows them northward now, and the bird stays with them night and day. However, in the middle of this friendly cooperation...

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