What are the most effective supernatural elements in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

The most effective supernatural elements are the figures of DEATH and LIFE-IN-DEATH, who mysteriously appear to settle the sailors' fates in part 3, and the reanimation of the dead crew in part 5.

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Arguably the most striking, overt, and effective supernatural elements in the poem are the characters of DEATH and LIFE-IN-DEATH. In part 3 of the poem, when the ship’s crew are stranded out of sea, with no wind to carry them onward and no water to drink, a mysterious ship appears in the distance and approaches.

The first supernatural aspect of the ship is that it moves without any wind:

Without a breeze, without a tide,

She steadies with upright keel!

The second supernatural aspect is the ship’s skeletal structure, which, like its windless locomotion, seems to defy the laws of seafaring. When the ship veers between the Mariner and the sun, he asks

Are those her ribs through which the Sun

Did peer, as through a grate?

Finally, the ship’s passangers are revealed to be DEATH itself and LIFE-IN-DEATH, the latter characterized as a woman with red lips, golden locks, and skin “as white as leprosy.” These two figures represent a stark departure from the heretofore naturalistic world of the poem. When they play a game of dice to decide the fates of the Mariner and his crewmates, this supernaturalism takes hold even further. The Mariner is fated to a continued yet harrowing existence, while the rest of his crew are fated to die.

Another supernatural element occurs in part 5 after the mariner blesses the water snakes and all of nature springs to life for him. At this point, the bodies of the dead crew are animated by "blessed" spirits that pilot the now-moving ship, showing that God now embraces the Mariner who loves his creation. The moment of reanimation is described in surreal terms:

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,

Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;

It had been strange, even in a dream,

To have seen those dead men rise.

As the Mariner notes, this supernatural change is bizarre even by the surreal standards of a dream.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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