The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Questions and Answers
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner book cover
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What is the theme of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?  

Sin and repentance are the central themes of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." The Mariner commits a terrible sin when he kills the albatross, one of God's beloved creatures. He spends the rest of his life trying to atone for his sin through his suffering and humility. He devotes his life to warning people about the dangers of sin, using his own life as a cautionary tale.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When he carelessly kills the albatross, the Mariner sins against God and nature. He sins against nature because God loves all of creation, not just humankind. The poem states:

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
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 theme or underlying meaning of the poem, therefore, is to show how one gets out from under a sin against God. The poem shows that this happens through the redemptive power of the imagination, an important Romantic theme.

The Mariner is guilty of killing the albatross. However, for a long time, he doesn't understand that he has done anything wrong. He can't see the beauty and wonder of God's creation. Therefore, he and his shipmates remain under a curse. It is impossible for the Mariner to achieve forgiveness until he is able to confess he has done something wrong.

Finally, when the Mariner sees and is able to respond to the beauty of the sea snakes, he shows he has developed the imagination and empathy to understand all of creation as blessed. Then the curse is lifted.

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kapokkid eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The overt story of the poem is the rather terrifying tale of a sailor beset by troubles at sea.  The underlying themes and the real subjects of the poem are christianity and the supernatural.  The mariner, who evetually becomes "ancient," decides on a whim to shoot the albatross that is following the boat.  He knows this is apparently considered bad luck, but what can be the harm.

He eventually pays the price for his foolishness and is redeemed as he learns the beauty of the life of the sea and the animals within and above it and spends the remainder of his life telling others his cautionary tale.

divyajaswani756 | Student
  1. The central theme of ' The Rime of the Ancient Mariner ' revolves around the mariner who is now old. He narrates his story of committing a sin of killing a holy bird albatross. He hypnotizes one of the three wedding guest and narrates his whole story that how he and his other crew members sailed with the cheers of people but how just because of an unfavorable wind they blew in the wrong direction, how the holy bird came as a blessing for them and he shot the bird dead one day. Now when he is guilty after killing the bird he took a resolve to tell his story of committing this sin to the world. He wants to tell and warn everyone that they should never do such mistake in their life.
emilyroseevelynmiller | Student

I would highlight three central themes within The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Sin and Punishment

The poem revolves around a single action, the killing of the Albatross, and its consequences. The repercussions of the Mariner’s crime are puzzling at first. However cruel the killing might have been, why should two hundred men die and the Mariner himself be driven nearly insane as a result? That the murder is deeply religious in nature is shown when the dead Albatross is equated with Christ: Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung Take for example, the story of Adam and Eve, like Adam’s sin, the simple act of eating an apple, the Mariner’s violence towards the Albatross calls for a harsh punishment. Also like Adam and Eve, the Mariner’s sin is eventually followed by redemption. Gazing at the ocean, he sees schools of sea snakes glistening in the moonlight. They are no longer slimy things, but are bathed in beautiful “golden fire”.

Natural and the Supernatural

The Romantic period, to which The Rime of the Ancient Mariner belongs, is defined by an appreciation and glorification of nature. The poem begins as the Mariner stops the Wedding Guest on his way to a wedding feast - a civil, rather than natural, event. However, by stopping the Wedding Guest he throws the man into the natural world that he, the Mariner, inhabits. Out on the seas, the Mariner can deal with nature in its most brutal form and his killing of the Albatross could be seen as his way of asserting his power over nature. However, the poem presents nature as more terrifying than the Mariner can imagine. It demonstrates that man’s attempt to exert power over nature is pointless. This is depicted when the Mariner’s ship is stranded at the South Pole and he and the Sailors suffer from extreme heat and thirst and begin to die. It also focusses attention on the connection between the natural and the supernatural. It is this relationship that explains what follows the killing of the Albatross. And what the Mariner and the Sailors suffer. Hurting nature, which was created by God, is a sin which will be punished by both the natural and the spiritual - the supernatural.

Mundane and Sublime

The idea of the sublime is an important tenet in Romanticism. However, the Romantics had a different definition of the sublime, than we do today. When we think of something being sublime, it is a positive term, it is something beautiful or excellent. But, to Coleridge and the other Romantics, it can be incredible, but also something dreadful. The sublime represents something awe-inspiring, and yet frightening, and is most often connected with nature. For example, when the Mariner’s ship is stranded at the South Pole the mist, ice and glaciers that surround it are described as being beautiful, yet dangerous and terrifying. So, we should appreciate both the beauty and the danger of the sublime. Because the Mariner sees only the horror (viewing the ice, the mist, the glaciers and sea creatures in a negative light), he has detached himself from the natural world and God’s creations. By accepting the beauty of the water snakes, the Mariner also, finally, accepts nature, God, and the sublime.

abhishekchand62 | Student

The theme of the poem is:

'If you will harm nature, Nature will take its revenge'

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