illustration of the Ancient Mariner in the ocean with an albatross tied around his neck

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Who is the speaker of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and what tone do they use?

Quick answer:

The Mariner is the speaker of the poem and uses a sing-song tone.

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This seems like a straightforward question, but it actually can be a little complicated. Most of the story is told in the voice of the ancient Mariner—hence the name of the poem—but the poem itself opens with the framing device of a third person narrator.

This narrator points out the ancient Mariner, saying "It is an ancient Mariner." The narrator then recounts that the Mariner stops one of three wedding guests trying to get to a wedding party. This guest is irritable at being delayed, because he has a wedding to attend. When the Mariner puts his "skinny hand" on the guest, the guest says, rather rudely: "unhand me, grey-beard loon!" But, the narrator tells us, when the Mariner fixes the wedding guest with his "eye," he is lost. He cannot help but listen to the story that will unfold. The narrative then shifts, as indicated by a quotation mark, into the first-person voice of the Mariner, who proceeds with the ballad.

The tone the mariner uses is sing-song: his is a mesmerizing voice, and he holds the wedding guest spell-bound. Part of this is done through the regular, rhyming cadence of the tale. The Mariner also uses archaic, medieval language and simple, vivid imagery to carry the listener through the many moods the tale evokes, from calm and hope to horror and despair to joy and reconciliation.

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The speaker is the Ancient Mariner who has stopped a man in order to gain an audience for his story.  He was a man who travelled the seas and had a wealth of stories to tell.

The poem is filled with a tone of dread and despair, particularly after the mariner has shot the albatross.  The horrible images he sees of his dead and dying fellow crewmembers, the terrible thirst and pain that assails him as well as the spirits from the underworld that visit him strengthen this tone throughout the poem.

The tone is also supported by the fact that the narrator was quickly left alone on the ship and was forced to deal with the loneliness and terror that assailed him.

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