The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Style, Form, and Literary Elements
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Kirk. Unnamed church at which the poem opens and closes. This church, as well as other sites to which the Mariner alludes—such as a lighthouse, a hill, and a harbor bay—are evidently located in the Mariner’s native country. (“Kirk” is an old and once commonly used word for church in the British Isles, especially in Scotland.) The Mariner comes to understand his place within the universe as one of many creatures that deserve honor and respect, and the church imputes a moral tone to these ideas. Indeed, the Mariner is not simply a relativist, believing that whatever he wants to do is correct for a particular situation. His killing of the harmless albatross emerges from such an incorrect assessment. The church calls this assumption into question. Consequently, the Mariner is compelled to repeat his story to the Wedding-Guest, whom the Mariner believes to be in need of such a lesson.


Ship. Unnamed vessel on which the Mariner rides the waves of the sea, beginning in the third stanza of part 1. As his ship continues its voyage, the sea itself reflects the mood, the emotional intensity, of the ship’s sailors. The men have nowhere else to go so long as they remain at sea, and their ship thus becomes both home and prison to them. When the wind drops, and the ship is becalmed, the Mariner is reminded how confining the ship is. When the ship is trapped among ice floes, the Mariner allows himself to kill the albatross for sport. The Mariner’s ship becomes the stage for his great sin, as well as for the beginning of his redemption.

Other ships also play important parts in this poem. For example, the skeleton ship approaching from the direction of the westward sky, on a still sea where no wind blows, provides a stage for a dialogue that occurs between Specter-Woman and her Deathmate who cast dice for the lives of the sailors.

South Pole

South Pole. The southern tip of Earth’s axis is not mentioned by name in the poem, but it is the clear direction in which the Mariner is sent by a storm-blast that drives his ship toward certain judgment in the frigid south. The ice of the southern polar region seems alive, as its movements make noise that sound like wild beasts, frightening the Mariner. The Spirit from the pole embodies these characteristics in the mind of the Mariner, as the Spirit makes the becalmed ship move at the behest of an angelic troupe who still seek vengeance for the albatross.

High Seas

High seas. Primary location through the poem. Two forms of water trap the ship—ice and water—thereby becoming its primary locus. Sailors learn to read the moods of the sea, based on the winds that propel its waves. The moon, as well, is reflected in the sea’s surface. Coleridge uses the sea, as well as other natural forms, as tools to instruct the Mariner on his moral lapse and lack of respect for all creation. The sun rises and sets several times in the poem, not simply to indicate the passage of time. When the sea gives back the sun’s face in reflection, the Mariner reacts as if all creation were watching and judging him.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

There are two settings in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." In the first scene an ancient mariner stops a guest at a wedding party and begins to tell his tale. The mariner's words then transport the reader on a long ocean voyage, returning to the wedding at the end of the poem. The story is probably set in the late medieval period; the town in which the action occurs is never named, although it is likely that Coleridge's audience would have pictured a British seaport, possibly London.

The mariner describes a voyage he takes as a youth from an unnamed European country to the South Pole and back. The initial descriptions of the ship and its crew are fairly realistic, but as the ancient mariner undergoes his quest for understanding and redemption, the supernatural world increasingly engulfs him. His world becomes nightmarish when...

(The entire section is 994 words.)