What was the mariner's curse?

The mariner's curse was to see everybody around him die, be unable to die himself, and be alone on the sea.

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In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the eponymous mariner recounts how he killed an albatross that had supposedly brought good luck to his ship and fellow mariners. For killing the albatross, the mariner was cursed.

In part 3 of the poem, the mariner describes how all of his fellow mariners died suddenly. He says that as he watched all of his fellow mariners die, each "cursed [him] with his eye." The "curse" that he saw in their eyes was their individual curses for him, as he was the man who, by killing the albatross, had caused the ill-fortune that, in turn, resulted in their deaths. At the same time, the "curse" he saw in their eyes was the curse that he took on when he killed the albatross.

As he watched his companions die, the mariner understood that he "could not die." He says that while all the men around him died, "a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on; and so did I." The mariner's curse is thus to survive his fellow mariners and to live on feeling, relative to the men he watches die, like a "slimy thing." He is cursed to watch everybody else die and to spend the ensuing days utterly alone, surrounded by death. He is cursed to be "Alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide wide sea!"

In the seventh and final part of the poem, the mariner also reveals another aspect of his experience that could be considered a curse: he is compelled to journey "from land to land" to tell his cautionary tale to people he meets. From time to time, he says, he is beset with "a woeful agony, / Which force[s] [him] to begin [his] tale." In these moments, he also has a "strange power of speech" that enables him to speak forcefully and eloquently, to better convey his warning to those he meets. The "agony," he says, "within [him] burns" until he has told his tale once more.

Thus, the mariner is cursed to forever wander the world, "from land to land," retelling his cautionary tale over and over, and, at the same time, reliving his own harrowing experiences over and over.

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