In Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," why does the crew’s joy shift to horror?

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booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the mariner has killed the albatross, the bird the sailors believed had brought them fair winds by which to sail.

When the breezes cease to blow, the crew is marooned at sea, with no way to move. They are also unable to take on supplies, and water becomes very scarce.

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

The days pass on in the same way. Until...

Through utter drought all dumb we stood!

I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,

And cried, A sail! A sail!

The response of the crew is one of relief and joy believing another ship has come to save them:

Gramercy! they for joy did grin,

And all at once their breath drew in,

As they were drinking all.

The crew's joy turns to terror as they ship draws closer, when they see it is a ghost ship. Death and the Nightmare Life-in-Death are "casting" dice, gambling. When the game is over, the crew draws back in horror:

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,

Too quick for groan or sigh,

Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,

And cursed me with his eye...

Somehow the meaning of what they have seen between the two entities has been clear enough to the mariner's shipmates: they curse him, and then each man falls down "in a lifeless lump."

Whereas the men were joyful believing they were saved, they are delivered into the hands of Death, all but the mariner.

herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The crew's joy shift to horror in the poem by Coleridge The Rime of the Ancient Mariner because, at first, they took the passing fog as a bad sign but within it they saw the appearance of the albatross, which is a bird.

Often a bird is considered an omen of good luck because birds are the ones which basically tell mariners that the land is near, or that there is life somewhere in the middle of the ocean. However, the winds apparently change direction, the boat stopped going as fast (because the wind slowed down) and immediately they changed their mind and though that the albatross is actually a bad omen. Sailors can be that way, in terms of superstitions. It is understandable considering the time they spend in the ocean makes them vulnerable.

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