Why is the Wedding Guest a sadder and wiser man after hearing the Mariner's story in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Samuel Taylor Coleridge includes the Wedding Guest only at the beginning and end of the poem; as the Mariner’s audience, he supplies a crucial part of the frame around the tale. There is a clear contrast between his attitude at the beginning and end. While Coleridge does not specify what...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Samuel Taylor Coleridge includes the Wedding Guest only at the beginning and end of the poem; as the Mariner’s audience, he supplies a crucial part of the frame around the tale. There is a clear contrast between his attitude at the beginning and end. While Coleridge does not specify what made the guest “sadder and wiser,” he mentions several characteristics that have changed.

As the poem opens, the Mariner accosts the Guest, who sees him as an old, crazy person and wants only to get away from him: “Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!” he yells. But the Guest soon finds himself transfixed and unable to get away from the Mariner’s look (“his glittering eye”) and his voice (“he cannot chuse but hear,” Coleridge says twice).

One things that Coleridge mentions both at beginning and end is the contrast between the bright frivolities of the wedding and the solemnity of prayer. We get the impression that the Guest was not previously a serious or religious person and that he gains the “wisdom” to contemplate spiritual matters. The poet originally stresses the bridge’s beauty, the music, and “the merry minstrelsy” of the wedding. At the end, the Mariner mentions specifically that prayer is better than celebration:

O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
'Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!—
To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray.

Part of the contrast here is the importance of company, which can be a congregation in a church or the company of God that keeps every person from being alone. This message is one that the Guest could readily absorb. The Mariner stresses not just that he was physically alone in the sea but spiritually alone. Now, the company of worshippers have God the Father with them.

... this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely 'twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be ...
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends.

Finally, the Guest himself can now be secure of being beloved of God.

For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Wedding Guest is sadder as a result of having heard a sorrowful story of the suffering that befell the Mariner and the other sailors because the Mariner killed an innocent and helpful albatross. For instance, the Mariner and the other men, as a punishment, become stuck out at sea without any wind or rain and become very thirsty. As the Mariner describes it, there was:

Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
Worse, when the men think they see a passing ship, they find it is death ship that takes the lives of many of the Mariner's comrades:
Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.
This is a sad story, but the Wedding Guest grows wiser as the Mariner relates to him the simple but profound religious revelation he has experienced. Through the Mariner, the Guest realizes it is a sin to wantonly destroy any part of God's creation. The Mariner has repented whole-heartedly of having killed the albatross. He tells the Wedding Guest:
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.
After the Mariner's powerful story of suffering, the Wedding Guest takes to heart the idea that God loves not just humans but all of creation, and he learns that the best form of prayer is not through words but through loving behavior toward all of God's creations.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Wedding-Guest is forced to hear the Mariner's tale when he is attending a wedding as "next of kin." He has no choice in the matter, and he "listens like a three years' child" (15). Throughout the poem, the Wedding-Guest states that he fears the Mariner, yet he remains spell-bound listening to the Mariner's story. This brings us to the question posed: Why is the Wedding-Guest sadder and wiser at the end?

First of all, it appears that the Mariner does not randomly choose the people to whom he tells his tale. We learn near the end of the poem from the Mariner that the "moment that his face I see, I know the man who must hear me" (589-590). Therefore, the young Wedding-Guest needs to hear this tale of sin, atonement, and redemption that echoes the principles of Christianity. It could be assumed that the Wedding-Guest may be on the same path as the Mariner who shot the albatross with his crossbow, thoughtlessly committing a crime against God and nature.

After hearing the tale of the Mariner's crime and his suffering, the Wedding-Guest has been forced to consider the results of sin. He also has been taught the lesson to treat all of God's creations with love. Consider Christian religion during Easter and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Believers are sadder and wiser during this Christian observance when they revisit the story of Jesus carrying the cross and His suffering to redeem mankind.

As the Mariner gives his testimony, the Wedding-Guest realizes the consequences of sin and is forced to understand the darker side of human nature. He is sadder and wiser.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The wedding guest is "sadder and wiser." Possibly, he is sadder because he himself is in need of repentance. Perhaps, the wedding guest has prejudices against some of God's creation that some consider lesser than.

Although the mariner kills the albatross, he has now learned his lesson and feels that all of God's creation should be respected. In fact, that is what he tells the wedding guest before his departure:

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast. (lines 611-614)

The wedding guest has learned so much from the mariner. He realizes how much the mariner has suffered for killing the albatross. Perhaps, the wedding guest is much wiser for hearing the story. Perhaps, the wedding guest has a new appreciation for all of God's creation. An albatross is a clumsy bird on its feet. Perhaps, it represents those who are significantly different and viewed by some men as less graceful. Perhaps, the wedding guest is sadder because the mariner has had to suffer so. Perhaps, the wedding guest has hidden prejudices that are unresolved. However, since the wedding guest is wiser, he will surely make the error of his ways right. There is a reason why the wedding guest becomes engrossed in the mariner's story. Perhaps, he could associate with the mariner in his prejudices of the albatross whom some have considered as a clumsy, lesser than bird.



Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On a very simplistic level, the wedding guest is sadder because he has missed the wedding. He has been held by the Ancient Mariner's "skinny hand" and "his glittering eye," and "he cannot choose but hear." And so he misses the wedding and the party.

But far deeper than this loss, the wedding guest has heard a tale of suffering and death. An albatross was shot, the Mariner who shot the bird and all his fellow crewmen were made to suffer and die for his careless, unthinking act of violence. Only the Ancient Mariner survived to pass on the tale.

And the wedding guest, in the end, is also wiser because he has been given a vital life lesson that the Mariner had to learn the hard way: Do not kill; respect all life, even the seemingly most useless and repulsive forms. He learned:

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.'

Wise words for all to heed, and worth missing a passing celebration for.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an old sailor, or "ancient mariner," accosts a man at a wedding and compels him to listen to a strange story. The man protests that he is "next of kin" and therefore must attend the ceremony, but the mariner's story enthralls him and he is helpless to resist it.

The mariner explains that he set sail on a ship that was driven south by a storm. The ship was trapped in the ice until an albatross, a symbol of good fortune, appeared, and the ship broke free. However, the mariner committed a grave crime by shooting the albatross with his crossbow. The ship reached warm waters, but was then becalmed. In retribution, the other sailors forced the mariner to wear the dead albatross around his neck. They encountered a ghostly ship with Death and Life-in-Death aboard. Death killed the other sailors, but Life-in-Death left the mariner alive, for he had to suffer for the deed he had done. At first he was cursed to sail the sea with the dead bodies of his crewmates, but when he learned to pray, the albatross fell off his neck and the curse was lifted.

Good spirits took over the bodies of the crew, and they rose up and sailed the ship. Eventually it brought the mariner back to his home port. The pilot, pilot's boy, and a hermit rescued the mariner in a boat, and the ship full of dead men sank in a whirlpool. When the mariner reached shore, he confessed his tale to the holy hermit.

Afterwards, however, he sometimes feels compelled to tell his tale again. He does not choose his audience at random, though. He looks for a sign that he is approaching the right person.

That moment that his face I see,

I know the man that must hear me:

To him my tale I teach.

So it is obvious that the mariner intentionally stops this particular wedding guest and no other because this man will somehow be receptive to what he has to say. At the beginning of the poem, the wedding guest considers the mariner an annoyance and is only concerned with the frivolities of the ceremony and celebrations. However, once he has heard the tale, he understands the lessons the mariner imparts: to attend church, to pray, and to love "all things both great and small."

In conclusion, the wedding guest is sadder because before he heard the mariner's story, he was content to merely amuse himself and nothing more. Now, however, he realizes there are more important things in life, and so he can no longer be happy in his ignorance. He is wiser because he has learned the profound truths that the mariner has taught him, and his life will be fuller and deeper as a result.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Wedding-Guest becomes "sadder" and "wiser" by hearing the Ancient Mariner's story. He learns that rash and violent deeds like shooting the albatross will be gruesomely punished, and not only the sinner will experience this punishment. Innocents, too, will suffer for other people's crimes. The men on the ship did not deserve to die for the Mariner's violent act, but they did die, so that the Mariner could experience his punishment of being "alone, alone, all, all alone/Alone on a wide, wide sea."

The Wedding-Guest learns from the Mariner that in order to please God, he must love all creatures, "man and bird and beast." God "made and loveth all" of these, so people must treat them with respect and kindness, or God will punish both the criminals and the innocent others around them.

The Wedding-Guest also learns to appreciate the company of his fellow human beings, as the Mariner expresses how much he now values companionship:

O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
'Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!—
To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens gay!

The Mariner especially appreciates the fellowship of others when all come together to worship God.

The Wedding-Guest, then, becomes wiser because he knows how to serve God—by loving all and praying for all living creatures—but sadder because he has learned that God's punishment for failing to do so can fall on innocent heads as well.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The wedding guest, in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," leaves the story told by the old man "sadder but wiser." The events which the old mariner told the wedding guest are not those which evoke feelings of elation at all. The tale of the old mariner is one filled with death, sorrow, and fear.

In the end, the fate and consequences of the old mariner are meant to serve as his punishment for killing the albatross which tailed his ship. Not thinking, the old mariner kills the albatross and the consequences are dire.

In his attempt to make good on his bad deed, the old mariner is forced to tell his tale of sorrow to all who will listen. A wedding guest, as detailed by the poem, is the "newest" receiver of his knowledge.

The reason the wedding guest is left feeling saddened and wise is because the tale is one which speaks of consequences for actions. The wedding guest realizes that one must consider all consequences for any actions before acting upon a decision. The tale also gives the wedding guest a feeling of sadness for what the old mariner had to face. This shows the sympathy the wedding guest has for both the old mariner and humanity. In the end, the wedding guest learns to think about consequences (wiser) and sadder because of all of the loss the old mariner had to face.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the Wedding Guest is accosted by the Mariner, he is irritated and frightened. Once the story is underway, the Wedding Guest is mesmerised. By the end of the tale, he is sadder and wiser. His responses - fear at being accosted by such a strange man, fascination at such a bizarre story, sadness and reflectiveness in reaction to the Mariner's fate and his message - certainly seem plausible.

To me, the key reason why he is a sadder and wiser man is that he has learnt and taken to heart the moral of the tale:

He prayeth well, who loveth we;l

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.

It seems to be that the main theme of this ballad is that Nature exacts its own revenge for crimes committed against it and that it is essential to love all creatures. The Wedding Guest is a "sadder and wiser man" because he recognises that this theme of respect for all life is a lesson that humanity must continually relearn.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on