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The narrator is a hoary old seaman identified only as the 'Ancient Mariner'. He stops a man on his way to a wedding party to relate his lengthy tale of woe. This man is known only as the 'Wedding Guest'. The background to the whole scene seems somewhat random. The Mariner, we are told, simply 'detaineth' the Wedding Guest, for no particular reason, and begins to recount his frightening adventures at sea when he needlessly shot an albatross, thus bringing down retribution on his ship for wantonly destroying one of nature's creatures.
The overall frame of the poem, then, is very thinly sketched; the focus is entirely on the marvellous narrative of the Ancient Mariner, with its sublime and supernatural scenes and events. There is a suggestion of a moral of sorts, when at the end, the Mariner cautions the Wedding Guest to respect all of life and nature:
Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
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