The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner book cover
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At a Glance

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge used many archaic spellings in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." The word "rime" refers both to a "rhyme" or poem and to a kind of frost that the Mariner encountered on his journey to the Antarctic. On the most basic level, the rime is about the ancient Mariner. It's also an adventure story about a journey through the "rime" or frost of the South Pole.
  • The albatross itself is a symbol of innocence and beauty. When the seaman hang the dead albatross around the Mariner's neck, it becomes a symbol of his sin, which he bears like a mark of shame. Ultimately, the albatross' death leads the Mariner to a spiritual epiphany, allowing him to understand his relationship with God and nature.
  • Coleridge personifies the figures of both Death and Life-in-Death, depicting them as two supernatural beings playing dice in order to determine the Mariner's fate. Death takes the two hundred hired seaman on the Mariner's ship, but Life-in-Death wins the Mariner, whose "ancient" appearance suggests, if not immortality, then a wizened old age.

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The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Three young gallants on their way to a wedding are stopped by an old gray-headed sailor who detains one of them. The ancient Mariner holds with his gaze a young man whose next of kin is being married in the church nearby and forces him to listen, against his will, to the old seaman’s tale. The ancient Mariner tells how his ship left the home port and sailed southward to the equator. In a storm the vessel was blown to polar regions of snow and ice. When an albatross flew out of the frozen silence, the crew hailed it as a good omen. The sailors made a pet of the albatross and regarded it as a fellow creature. One day the ancient Mariner killed the bird with his crossbow. The superstitious sailors believed bad luck would follow.

Fair winds blew the ship northward until it reached the equator, where it was suddenly becalmed and lay for days without moving. The thirsty seamen blamed the ancient Mariner and hung the dead albatross about his neck as a sign of his guilt.

In the distance a ship appeared, a skeleton ship that moved on the still sea where no wind blew. On its deck Death and Life-in-Death were casting dice for the crew and the ancient Mariner. As a result of the cast, Death won the two hundred crew members, who dropped dead one by one. As the soul of each dead sailor rushed by, the ancient Mariner was reminded of the sound of the rushing bolt of his crossbow when he shot the albatross. Life-in-Death won the ancient Mariner, who lived on to expiate his sins. Furthermore, the curse lived on in the eyes of the men who died accusing him. One night the ancient Mariner, observing the beauty of the water snakes around the ship, blessed these creatures in his heart. The spell was broken. The albatross fell from his neck into the sea.

At last the ancient Mariner was able to sleep. Rain fell to quench his thirst. The warped vessel began to move, and the bodies of the dead crew rose to resume their regular...

(The entire section is 2,723 words.)