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 a significant passage from each of the first three parts of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

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Passage 1:

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.

This passage is significant because it introduces the albatross, which is a key element of the poem. It shows that the albatross was more than just a bird to the mariners. Instead, they reacted as though it had some religious significance. In part, this reflects the fact that mariners believed that albatrosses were or brought good luck. It also reflects the extreme loneliness of the voyage, in which little other life was seen, and thus emphasizes the desolation of the ocean. There is also another possible religious significance here, in that Noah, floating on the ocean after the flood, sends out a dove which returns with a leaf in its beak, bringing hope to Noah and signaling the end of his journey. Finally, the sense that the bird had a Christian soul suggests that the mariners have the same moral duty towards it that they might have towards a human being.

Passage 2:

And I had done an hellish thing,

And it would work ‘em woe:

For all averred, I had killed the bird

That made the breeze to blow.

The mariners believed that the bird had brought them good luck and favorable winds. After the ancient mariner kills the albatross, the ship is becalmed, and the crew nearly die of starvation and thirst. What is especially significant about the passage is the use of the term "hellish." The albatross is portrayed as an almost heavenly creature, and thus the murder of the bird is considered hellish. Much of the scenery in which the ship is becalmed after the bird's death also appears hellish: "The death-fires danced at night;/ The water, like a witch’s oils,/ Burnt green, and blue and white."

Passage 3:

Four times fifty living men,

(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)

With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,

They dropped down one by one.

The supernatural nature of the story is reflected in this verse, which describes the deaths of the sailors after the ancient mariner sees or hallucinates an uncanny apparition. The death of all members of the crew except for the one most to blame for the events gives a sense of the enormity of the act, something emphasized by the large number of people who die. It also increases our sense of horror as we imagine the ancient mariner watching his crew mates drop lifeless to the deck one by one.

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