What are some examples of symbolism in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the albatross is a good omen for sailors and sometimes even represented the soul of a lost sailor. So, to kill the albatross is to bring bad luck. Hung on the mariner's neck, the albatross becomes a symbol of his thoughtless crime. The mariner doesn't seem to have any malice when he killed the albatross. However, he must deal with the consequences of his action. His penance is to continue to travel, presumably forever, to different lands to retell his tale. He is doomed to an eternity of warning others to avoid his mistakes.

And till my ghastly tale is told,

This heart within me burns.


I pass, like night, from land to land;

I have strange power of speech;

That moment that his face I see,

I know the man that must hear me:

To him my tale I teach. (584-590)

This is why Life-in-Death won the dice game. Had Death won, the mariner would have died. Instead, the mariner is subject to a kind of life in death, traveling forever in order to tell his tale.

Keep in mind the epigraph, from Thomas Burnet, which begins, "I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe." He goes on to say, "Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, narrow itself and sink wholly into trivial thoughts." That invisible, better world is the idealistic or spiritual world beyond human perception. Thus, the symbols in the mariner's story could reflect spiritual as well as physical meanings.

The voyage is symbolic of the mariner's life: his path to sin and his subsequent repentance.

As the ship turns around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America, the mariner and his crew head north towards the Sun rising in the east (on their right). The Sun is a symbol of God and this image is veiled by the foreboding fog which is indicative of an evil presence eclipsing the goodness of the Sun. (The Sun also becomes a symbol of, perhaps God's, punishment as it contributes to the drought.

The glorious Sun uprist:

Then all averred, I had killed the bird

That brought the fog and mist. (98-100)

The ship becomes like a prison. Stuck in the middle of the ocean with no drinking water, it is another punishment.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink. (119-122)

The ghost ship, which Death and Life-in-Death arrive in, is simply symbolic of retribution, death, evil, and punishment.

The crew of the mariner's ship might be compared to the wedding party. The former is associated with the killing of an innocent life (albatross) and the latter is associated with a celebration of life.

"Rime" is a frost coating of ice. In poetry, ice can be symbolic of death. In this poem, the rime (ice) is similar to the foreboding fog and the lifelessness of the South Pole. It is symbolizes the mariner's sin or crime and his upcoming punishment; note the similarity of the words: (c)rime. So, the rime is the crime and the invisible (spiritual or demonic) elements manifested via fog and ice. The rime is also the mariner's story (his penance of having to retell his story), the "rhyme"/poem itself.

girlygrrlash | Student

In Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “after the Mariner commits the sin of shooting the Albatross, guilt begins to manifest in all kinds of super natural forms” (Blogspot). Here, the Albatross can be seen as “a representative of nature, but means nothing to the Mariner” (Blogspot). In the poem, “nature quickly changes and began punishing him for killing the symbol of nature” (Blogspot). In addition, “he is then penalized by the rays of the sun and mocked by the sight of water that he could not drink” (Blogspot). After the mariner begins to see the beauty in nature he:

begins to find his salvation when he starts to see the ‘slimy things’ as creatures of strange beauty. He now understands the Albatross is a symbol of nature and he realizes what he had done wrong. The bird, which is hung around his neck as a punishment, falls into the water and makes the change from punishment to penance.

Two super natural figure shows up, one is Life in Death and the other is Death. They both gamble for his life and Life in Death ends up winning the Mariner. He now must live life in death and endure his penance for the rest of his life and seek out certain people to tell his tale because his soul tortures him until he delivers the message. Another theme in this poem is respect for nature. All Romantic poets including Coleridge worship nature and the beauty of the natural world. Everyone should respect all of God’s creation as well as the Albatross and the sea snake. 
The Mariner is an actual symbolic representation of Adam. The Ancient Mariner slaying of the Albatross is equal to Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. This story takes on elements from the stories of Adam and Eve and crucifixion of Christ. 
The moon and sun plays an important symbol in this story. The sun represents God’s influence of wrathful power but the moon has a more positive association than the sun. Generally troubling outcome happens to the Mariner during the day while more favorable result happens by moon light. For example, the mariner’s curse lifts and he returns home by moonlight (Blogspot).

Works Cited

Blogspot. 24 December 2010. 4 December 2013. <http://samueltaylorcoleridge.blogspot.com/2010/12/themes-and-symbolism-of-rime-of-ancient.html>.

staci07 | Student

There are many themes present in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the most prevalent being guilt and punishment. The Mariner shoots the Albatross, which is bad luck. In fact, the mariner is immediately remorseful for his crime and hangs the bird corpse around his neck-the bird is a holy symbol of purity slain and serves as a reminder to him of his crime as well as a self inflicted punishmen. This symbolism has been associated with Jesus carrying his cross as the mariner made the slain bird his cross to bear as nature's fury descended on his ship. All light disappears and the sea turns stormy as soon as the Albatross(as a holy symbol) was struck down. Soon his ship is met by Death and Life In Death who both wish to take him as punishment. They settled on a dice game to determine his fate. Life IN Death won the Mariner sentencing him to a horribl immortal life. Death claimed his shipmates and the Mariner is forced to watch his friends die while he lived on unable to join them.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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