illustration of the Ancient Mariner in the ocean with an albatross tied around his neck

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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What is the setting of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

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In the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the setting shifts between a wedding, at which the mariner is a guest, and the sea, which is described in flashbacks.

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Although the majority of the poem takes place at sea, the initial setting of the poem is a wedding at which the mariner is a guest, as is the person whom he finds to relay his tale. The mariner grabs this unsuspecting man intending to tell him about his past, and the shift from the wedding to the flashbacks of the mariner occurs in the fifth stanza: "The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:/ He cannot choose but hear;/ And thus spake on that ancient man,/ The bright-eyed Mariner" (20-24). The mariner then goes on to tell his strange account of his voyage. However, the rest of the poem does not solely take place in that series of flashbacks. Instead, Coleridge shifts back and forth from the sea to the wedding so that the reader can know how the guest is reacting to the mariner's strange tale. The first line of part IV reads, "'I fear thee, ancient Mariner!'" This five-word response is repeated a few times throughout the poem, further heightening the suspense and intrigue surrounding the mariner.

This shift between two dissonant settings brings the reader to a sense of confusion. Why would Coleridge include the setting of a wedding at all? Although the answer is obviously not outlined for the reader, it is certainly a question worth exploring. It is a common interpretation that the albatross that the mariner killed is a symbolic representation of Jesus. By killing him, the mariner heaps judgment and guilt upon himself. However, when he comes to a point of recognition for his transgression and learns to appreciate the beasts on his journey, the weight of the albatross is lifted. Jesus' miraculous powers are meant to be displayed in the mariner's burden and then freedom. Likewise, according to Biblical tradition, Jesus' first miracle was done at a wedding, further linking the settings to the overall motifs of guilt and redemption found in the poem.

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The actual setting/scene of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is, essentially, a rock outside of a wedding celebration. The story that the Mariner tells is framed within this specific scene. The inner tale, the seafaring exploration and everything that went along with it, is essentially an epic anecdote. This can be seen via a focus on the beginning and end of Coleridge's poem.

The poem begins by setting up the frame in stanzas one through five. In stanza one, the Mariner stops one of three people, who asks the Mariner why he has been stopped. In stanza two, the stopped guest goes on to say the following:

"The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May'st hear the merry din."
In stanzas three and four, the Mariner "holds" onto the man "with his skinny hand," and "his glittering eye" captivates the listener, at which time,
The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.
The Mariner then begins his anecdote, which fills stanzas six through eight. In stanzas nine and ten, Coleridge again returns to the frame:

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

Coleridge then separates his audience from the frame setting until the beginning of Part IV, at which time the Wedding-Guest speaks up to address his fear of the story:
"I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.
I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown."—
Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest!
This body dropt not down.
Part V, Stanza Thirteen again returns to the frame briefly, via another brief exclamation by the Guest and an answer from the Mariner:
"I fear thee, ancient Mariner!"
Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
Finally, the last ten stanzas of Part VII, the very end of the tale, return to the frame, thus bookending the majority of the narrative. However, even though this was just a story, it has had an effect on its listener, which is conveyed in the final two stanzas.
The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.
While Coleridge's Mariner takes his listener on a sweeping tale as described in the preceding answer, it is all being told as its listener sits atop a stone, outside of a wedding. However, it has a great effect on the listener, who was "sadder and wiser" from that moment on.
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," begins in a wedding reception hall, where the narrator tells his story to a wedding guest. The setting of the actual story he tells begins on a ship with 201 sailors, including the ancient mariner, who narrates the poem. Throughout the poem, the ship sails the Atlantic Ocean, moves on to the South Pole, the Pacific Ocean, and finally the mariner's homeland, which is not identified. At the wedding reception hall, the narrator begins his story, which he feels he has to tell to ease his conscience. It is his penance for his sin of killing the albatross-that for the rest of his days, he must tell his tale, and he can tell at a moment's glance which person he should single out to hear it.

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Where does "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" take place?

Although the exact location of the seaport used as the setting of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," is never given, the reader can assume that it is probably a British coastal city--possibly London. While telling his story outside a wedding, the mariner does describe an earlier voyage he takes to the South Pole, and he spends much of the poem adrift on the high seas. Likewise, the ocean in which the mariner sails is also not named.

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Where does "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" take place?

There's two possible ways to answer this question.  One, the rime is told at a wedding, by one of the wedding guests, so you could say the rime itself takes place at a wedding.  The story itself takes place on the open ocean, as a cursed ship (one of the men killed an Albatross, a traditional and superstitious sign of good luck for Mariners) encounters spiritual forces associated with the curse. 

So, as a tale told at a wedding or aboard a ship on the high seas would be my answer to that question.

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