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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Why is the Ancient Mariner only interested in telling his story to that guest only in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Coleridge wanted his poem to be spoken by a fictitious narrator in order to avoid giving the impression that he was speaking about an experience of his own. He invented the ancient mariner for this purpose. The fact that this eccentric character seems so authentic adds to the verisimilitude of the long tale. He is exactly the sort of person who could have had that sort of strange experience.

Coleridge also felt obliged to invent another character to whom the ancient mariner was telling his story, although he probably could have claimed that the story had been told to him personally. By having the ancient mariner insisting on telling his story to the wedding guest right in the here and now, especially with the wedding ceremony imminent, a sense of immediacy is created which would have been absent if Coleridge simply claimed that he was repeating a story told to him at some time in the past.

Coleridge added drama to his tale by creating conflict between the ancient mariner and the wedding guest. The wedding guest is late for a wedding, and apparently he is someone who is of importance to the ceremony. He does not want to stop and listen to the weird old character's story and keeps protesting that he is late. But the ancient mariner has "strange power of speech" and holds the younger man against his will.

This is a clever way of adding drama to the poem by creating conflict, which is the essence of drama. Part of the conflict is due to what is called a "ticking clock,"  a time factor that gives a sense of urgency. The wedding guest does not merely want to evade this seedy-looking old vagabond (who may be planning to ask for a handout), but he has a pressing engagement which increases his motivation to get away from him.

The poem about the actual voyage is a story within a story. The cover story ends with the wedding guest being allowed to go on his way, a sadder but a wiser man.

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Ancient Mariner just has a way of sensing to whom he must tell his tale next. The exact reason for his choosing of the wedding guest is not clearly stated, other than that the mariner knows to whom he must relate the story of his experiences just by seeing him. Near the end of the poem, in lines 583-587, the mariner explains,

"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."

The Mariner has...

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