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 lesson does the Mariner learn from his experiences in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

From his experiences, the Mariner in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" learns the lesson of loving and respecting God and all of his creations.

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As his story begins, the Mariner's ship enters icy waters. There, he unthinkingly shoots the innocent and helpful Albatross with his cross-bow, killing it. The mariner does this because he can. He doesn't value the Albatross, think about God, or regard the bird as a creature formed by God.

As a result, the Mariner and the rest of the crew are punished harshly for this transgression. However, in the midst of his suffering, the Mariner glimpses the beautiful motion and color of water snakes. They seem to shine as they coil and swim, flashing colors such as blue and green. The Mariner recalls that:

A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware
Because of this spontaneous overflow of emotion, the Mariner is freed to pray. The dead Albatross falls from around his neck and into the sea. The Mariner is finally able to sleep. When he awakens, it rains, and he and the crew can finally drink. Finally, too, after being stranded so long, the ship is blown back on course by the wind. The curse has been lifted, and the spell has been "snapt."
As the Mariner tells the Wedding Guest, he has learned that it is good to go to the church ("kirk") in the community with other people and pray. He has discovered that:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
The Ancient Mariner has discovered the importance of loving and respecting all of God's creation.
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The ancient mariner learned two things as a result of his harrowing supernatural experience. He learned to value human companionship, and he learned to love both people and animals. 

At the beginning of the tale the mariner relates in the poem, the mariner is one of fifty-one sailors on a ship. At first he seems one with the others; they cheer the albatross when it appears and appreciate the luck it seems to bring them. But something causes him to separate from his fellows when, instead of offering food or playing with the albatross like the other mariners, he shoots the bird with his crossbow. At first the men are upset with him, but then they change their tune and believe that the bird had brought "the fog and mist" and that he was right to slay it. However, when the ship gets stuck in the doldrums, the men hang the albatross around his neck, showing he is no longer accepted by them but blamed. When all the men except the mariner fall down dead, their eyes curse him. He endures their cursing looks for seven days and comes to realize that curse is "more horrible" than an orphan's curse. He seems to wish he could die rather than be "alone, alone, all, all alone." Only he and "a thousand thousand slimy things lived on." 

The point at which he blesses the water snakes is the turning point. He...

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is able to pray, and the rain comes and the spirits sail him back home. When he returns, he must continue to do penance by sharing the lesson he has learned with chosen listeners. When summing up his tale to the Wedding-Guest, he describes his loneliness and declares that "sweeter than the marriage-feast" is walking "together to the kirk with a goodly company!" In other words, he has learned to value human companionship. Additionally, he tells the guest, "He prayeth well, who loveth well both man and bird and beast." By this he means that God's favor rests on the person who loves not only humans, but also all the creatures God has made. God loves the people he has made, so his people should love God's creation as well. 

The lessons the mariner learned, which he passes on to the Wedding-Guest, are first that nothing is as sweet as good human fellowship and second that people should love "all things both great and small" in God's creation.

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The mariner does learn the consequences of his unthinking action (killing the albatross) through the death of his fellow shipmates.  He is brought on the road to redemption by the "unthinking" blessing of the watersnakes, creatures he before had thought abhorent.  When he does this the albatross which the other sailors had hung about his neck falls from him.  The sailors arise, but the are not resurrected and themselves again.  They are possessed, in a sense, by angels.  These angels use the bodies of the sailors to get the mariner back home.  Though the mariner does learn to appreciate nature as a result of his experiences, the consequences of his unthinking action are not erased.  The sailors are still dead and go down with the ship when they reach harbor.  And the mariner still has penance he must do.  He is compelled to tell his story to people that he meets.  He does not tell everyone, however.  The compulsion to tell his story comes over him at unanticipated times.  The people to whom he tells the story must learn from it to appreciate all of God's creation, just as the mariner has learned.

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

Another possible "message" in this poem is that of death, repentance, and resurrection. There is a considerable amount of Christian symbolism in the poem as well as outright allusions to Christianity, with many passages to suggest this is a theme of the work.

The albatross seems to be a Christ symbol:

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name(63-66).

In Christianity, Christ was sent by God to save mankind, as this albatross was sent to save the ship. But the Ancient Mariner kills the albatross:

'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look'st thou so?'—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS (79-82).

Subsequently, the men die as the result of being trapped on the ocean with no winds.  The Ancient Mariner repents for his crime, and when he prays, the albatross, which had been hung around his neck as punishment for his sin, drops away, he falls to sleep, the winds come, and all the men return to life:

Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven,
That slid into my soul (292-296).

Of course, a great deal more happens than this in the poem, and there is considerably more Christian symbolism and allusion, but even these selections are ample evidence to support a message of Christian death, repentance, and resurrection.

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

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of Ancient Mariner is a moral narrative poem that sends the readers complex messages, and this complexity mainly arises due to the rich symbolism. In the poem, we see that a mariner stops a wedding guest and forces him to listen to a story in which he kills an albatross during a journey he makes with other sailors in the sea. We come to know that the mariner feels he is cursed because of this. He is disturbed and harbors remorse for the wrong he did by killing the innocent creature in “blind faith” or superstition.  

Consider the following lines from the poem,

He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us He made and loveth all...

These lines clearly state how important it is to love and respect all the creations of God. God loves all of his creations equally, whether they are great or small. The mariner shouldn’t have killed the albatross. This moral message is understood only in the end.

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What is the lesson learned in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

The eponymous ancient mariner was cursed for shooting and killing an albatross. This albatross supposedly brought the ancient mariner and his fellow sailors tremendous good luck. Before the albatross appeared, the sailors' ship was stuck between sheets of ice. The ice "cracked and growled, and roared and howled," and the sailors became afraid that they might never escape. Then, "as if it had been a Christian soul," the albatross appeared, and the ice sheets "did split with a thunder-fit."

However, soon after, for reasons unexplained, the Ancient Mariner decided to kill the albatross. For this, he was cursed. The death of the albatross heralded a long drought which eventually killed all of the sailors except for the ancient mariner, who was cursed to look on helplessly as those around him died but he did not. Additionally, the ancient mariner must forever afterwards "from land to land" to tell his story, as a warning, to other people. Indeed, this is why he narrates the poem to the wedding guest.

The lesson that the ancient mariner wishes to impart to the wedding guest and that Coleridge wishes to impart to his readers is simply that they should respect the natural world. They should not assume that they are more important or in any way better than the creatures of the natural world, such as the albatross.

This poem was first published in 1798, during the Romantic era. Romantic poets, like Coleridge, often celebrated the natural world as beautiful and sacrosanct. Romantic poets believed that God existed in and through nature and that the best way for humans to worship God was, therefore, to appreciate and respect the natural world. The ancient mariner was cursed because, in killing the albatross, he failed to show respect for the natural world.

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