What are examples of oxymoron in the poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the fourteenth stanza of Part One, the speaker describes a snow-filled crevice that they sail past; it is said that it gives off a "dismal sheen." This is an oxymoron because dismal means gloomy and depressing, while sheen means shining or resplendent.

In Part Five, it is oxymoronic that "with his cruel bow he laid full low / the harmless Albatross." "Cruel" and "harmless" are opposites that are juxtaposed here to describe the fateful killing of the bird. In the next stanza, another example exists: "He loved the bird that loved the man / who shot him with his bow." The bird's love for his killer is an odd and wholly unexpected sentiment.

A third and final example of oxymoron appears in the poem's penultimate stanza in describing the mariner: "The Mariner, whose eye is bright, / Whose beard with age is hoar." Bright eyes are associated with the young and vital, which the mariner is not; hoar, however, means to be gray-haired or bearded with age, which of course the ancient mariner would be.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Oxymora are figures of speech which involve some kind of contradiction in terms. In Part II, the speaker says "Water, water, every where, / Nor any drop to drink." This might qualify as an oxymoron because it seems contradictory to be surrounded by water while being unable to drink any of it. However, this is easily explained away by the fact that it is saltwater and is therefore unfit to drink. 

The most obvious example of an oxymoron in this poem occurs in Part III. The mariner and his crew encounter the character "LIFE-IN-DEATH." She (Life-in-Death) and Death are rolling dice, gambling over the fates of the men on the ship. Death wins all of the crew and they are killed. But "Life-in-Death" wins the mariner. She decides to put a curse on him.

Life and death are clearly contradictory terms. This combination fits the fate of the mariner. He is cursed to remain alone (alive) with his ship full of dead men. He is alive but in a world of death. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial