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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How does the Ancient Mariner symbolize guilt and loneliness in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"?

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In Part II of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," several different symbols represent the Mariner's guilt and loneliness after he has killed the albatross.

The first stanza of Part II describes the sun, saying that it "hid in mist," which foreshadows the mist and fog to come that obscures the way of the ship in Part II. The darkness of the mist interferes with the passage of the ship, much like the dark emotions of guilt interferes with the Mariner's previously positive state of mind.

In the sixth stanza of Part II, "the sails dropt down,/'Twas sad as sad could be." The description of the drooping sails contains a strong visual image of a ship that has lost its power and its drive to move forward. This image of the empty sails that droop from the absence of wind symbolizes the feelings of despair that cause the Mariner's spirits to drop and also cause him lose his own ambition to carry on.

In the final stanza of Part II, the Mariner's guilt is complete and hangs about him like "the Albatross/About my neck was hung." The guilt, just like the bird, is a constant reminder of the Mariner's mistake and the grievous consequences of his error.

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Guilt and loneliness can cause a person to question things they have done in more detail than a normal person would. Both weigh on the mind heavily. His guilt over the death of the harmless bird and the subsequent deaths of his fellow crew members cause him to see the beauty of the individuals and their role in life. His prayer for both lead to the ship's movement toward home.

His loneliness as being the sole survivor is documented in many real life stories. It is called survivor's guilt. Why did I survive and others didn't? Did I deserve to live? What am I supposed to do with what I learned? I'm a flawed individual who didn't deserve to live. Imagine being alone on a becalmed ship with a dead, huge bird hanging around your neck (phew) and 200 dead men's eyes staring at you! His loneliness would cause him to talk to himself, and fearing insanity, he might just give those voices a personality-that of spirits. It's like the little devil and angel that sit on one's shoulders and talk to them before a decision is made! His loneliness will manifest itself in spreading his story to those he feels need to listen.

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In Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" guilt and loneliness are symbolized most notably by the figure of the Mariner himself.

He is cursed for the rest of his life to wander and, when the urge and pain come upon him, to stop whoever he is directed to stop and tell his story to that person.  There is no one else like him, and the obsession to tell his story is beyond his control.

His guilt of course comes from his killing of the albatross, one of the creator's creations.  As the Mariner tells the wedding guest:

"He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all." (lines 614-617)

This is the lesson in the tale the Mariner tells, and is doomed to tell. 

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