The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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What Does The Albatross Symbolize

What does the albatross symbolize in the poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The living albatross is a symbol of God's creation and of innocence. The dead albatross is a symbol of sin.

When the Mariner kills the albatross, the other sailors see this as a sign of bad luck and fear, rightfully, that their dangerous voyage will be cursed and run into trouble. Yet the "bad luck" is merely a surface manifestation of a deeper issue. God created the albatross and all of the earth's creatures, and thus they all become reminders of God's presence in the world. They are not merely objects. The albatross is not simply a bird but a carrier of the divine spark. Albatross flesh supposedly tasted like human flesh, highlighting that both albatross and human are touched with divinity.

It is only when the Mariner can feel the beauty of God's creation that the curse of killing the albatross is lifted. When he feels love for the water snakes, the Mariner is released from his sin, and the albatross falls from his neck.

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brettd eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The albatross to sailors is a sign of good luck, and sailors everywhere for centuries are very superstitious people, so they look for signs.  In the poem, however, the albatross is the symbol of the curse, and the origin of the popular saying "hang an albatross around his neck".  It is a burden to be carried that you cannot avoid or end on your own.

To kill an albatross at sea is instant bad luck, and casts a pall over the mood of the men as they then expect something bad will happen, and of course, the point of the story is that something bad does happen and the crew and the boat are cursed.

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kapokkid eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In many ways it is the actual killing of the albatross that comes to have great meaning in the poem, but the albatross itself has always been linked to a number of things in nautical society.

The albatross can be linked to a natural order, and sailors have always believed it to be a symbol of good luck and a harbinger of good news or positive events.

The killing of that albatross was not one directed by malice or any real evil intention, but it becomes the focal point of the negative fate the killer is to suffer.  In killing the bird, he broke the natural connection between man and nature and fate and these actions come about to haunt the man and to bring him great misfortune.

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nikolaslomachenko | Student

The albatross symbolizes the innocence of nature. Men of Coleridge’s time were very interested in the ideas of ‘natural law,’ and traditionally the albatross is considered a bird of good omen. So killing the albatross as a crime of cruelty and contempt for the laws of natural hospitality. The entire poem proceeds from this action as the Mariner and his crew are pursued by may strange manifestations of a curse. The Mariner is only saved by divine grace.

A criticism of this poem by Yale Professor Harold Bloom is that the murder of the albatross is completely arbitrary. There is no reason for the albatross to appear or be killed, and so the entire poem and it's moral are based on a completely senseless act.