In Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there is a cyclic nature to the Mariner’s experience. Each time he retells his tale, he fully experiences the agony and the suffering again.Two of...

In Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there is a cyclic nature to the Mariner’s experience. Each time he retells his tale, he fully experiences the agony and the suffering again.

Two of the themes related to this in the poem are “the consequences of moral guilt” and “partial restitution.” Choose a few quotations from the poem that illustrate either of these themes and explain how they do so.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Samuel Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, one theme that repeats is that of "partial restitution."

In this epic poem, the mariner sets sail on a ship that is followed by an albatross (a large sea bird) that follows the men for a number of days. Then, for no reason, the mariner shoots the bird with his crossbow. At first the crew is angry with him, believing that the bird brought good luck. However, when the fog lifts, they agree that the mariner was right to kill the bird.

The Romantic poets venerated nature: especially in the face of the Industrial Revolution that was destroying the land and the air quality.

In this poem, Coleridge uses the mariner and his fellow-sailors as an example of what can happen when nature is not highly regarded and/or protected.

His underlying theme is that all things that inhabit the natural world have an inherent value and beauty, and that it is necessary for humanity to recognize and respect these qualities.

The ship is becalmed—the men run out of water. Then they are visited by a ghost ship with Death, and his mate, Life-in-Death. The two gamble for the lives of the crew members. All are lost to Death except the mariner, who Life-in-Death "wins." The others die where they stand.

The mariner's "partial restitution" is seen as he suffers for his crime, and how he pays for what he has done. First, all aboard the ship suffer:

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink. (113-119)

Without a wind, the ship is motionless. When water runs out, men being to suffer. They blame the mariner with their looks. Then he is forced to make "partial restitution"...

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks

Had I from old and young!

Instead of the Cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung. (136-139)

The other men's lives are taken by Death. The mariner is saved by Life-in-Death, but he continues to be punished. He must watch every other man and boy on that ship die before him.

Four times fifty living men,

(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)

With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,

They dropped down one by one. (213-216)

The mariner experiences both guilt and offers restitution as he watches his shipmates die—while he is spared. The mariner's suffering continues as he faces not only life on a ship with a dead crew, but deep loneliness:

Alone, alone, all, all alone,

Alone on a wide wide sea!

And never a saint took pity on

My soul in agony. (229-232)

The mariner is punished also in that he cannot pray. The words turn to dust in his mouth.

Suddenly, the mariner looks over the side of the ship to see beautiful creatures swimming. Without a thought he blesses them. In that moment, he is able to pray and the dead bird drops from his neck. He is released from his terrible guilt—for the moment. When he is saved from his sinking, he asks a holy man (the Hermit) to forgive his sins.

However, though the priest forgives his sins, and his respect for nature has grown, the mariner is still punished:

Since then, at an uncertain hour,

That agony returns;

And till my ghastly tale is told,

This heart within me burns. (579-582)

So the mariner is forced to tell his story when he meets someone who needs to hear it. Only then does the pain leave—and only for a short while, as he travels the land, finding others who need to learn the lesson he learned.

Read the study guide:
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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