The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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At a Glance

  • The Mariner, an old sailor tormented by the fact that he killed an innocent albatross.
  • The Wedding Guest, a young man who can't pull himself away from the Mariner with the "glittering eye."
  • The Mariner's shipmates, who approve of his killing the albatross and thus become complicit in his sin.
  • The hermit, a holy man from whom the Mariner begs absolution.
  • The pilot and his boy, who row out to meet the Mariner's boat when it returns to harbor.

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The Ancient Mariner

The Ancient Mariner, a somewhat mysterious figure. The poem deals with two separate times, the time of the voyage and the time of the Mariner’s retelling. Facts helping to date the time of the voyage are that the Mariner uses a crossbow rather than a firearm and that his ship is the first ever to sail into the Pacific Ocean, thereby preceding Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage of 1520. He is evidently a Catholic, because he twice calls on the Virgin Mary and also invokes other saints. As for the time of the retelling, there is only a general sense that the Mariner is perceived as belonging to an earlier generation. There is not enough information about the wedding to know whether it was Catholic or Protestant, and the vesper bell toward the end of the poem could belong to either faith. The bassoon mentioned toward the beginning, however, would not have been possible before the sixteenth century. In a fragment of conversation recovered in the twentieth century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge once remarked that the Mariner was in fact a young man while on board the ship and that he was retelling the story fifty years later.

The Wandering Jew

The Wandering Jew, a traditional figure in European literature. He is a blasphemer condemned to wander the earth until the second coming of Christ because he had mocked Christ while He was bearing the Cross on his way to Calvary. The legend was believed in late medieval Europe, and several accounts of supposed meetings with the Wandering Jew were published, beginning in the sixteenth century. Several writers of the Romantic period then took up the idea, making it central to their theme of social and spiritual alienation, a burden felt by Coleridge also. Coleridge was himself known to be an incessant talker.

The Wedding Guest

The Wedding Guest, one of three “gallants,” or fashionable young men particularly attentive to women, whom the Mariner accosts while they are on their way to the wedding. He is apparently the bride’s brother. Throughout the poem, the Wedding Guest (when allowed to speak) represents a normal but naïve view of reality. Eventually, he is decisively influenced by the Mariner’s extraordinary revelations. Members of the wedding include the bride, the bridegroom, the guests, and the musicians.

The ship’s crew

The ship’s crew, at the beginning numbering some two hundred men, including a helmsman and the Mariner’s nephew. The crew is later joined by an albatross of uncertain dimensions and color who is obviously more than just a bird. The...

(The entire section is 1,298 words.)