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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So you’re going to teach “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's classic poem has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenges—archaic language and syntax—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into Romantic poetry, the lyric ballad as a genre, and important themes regarding nature, imagination and spiritual redemption. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1798 
  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level:
  • Approximate Word Count: 3,900 
  • Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge 
  • Country of Origin: England 
  • Genre: Lyric Ballad, Morality Tale 
  • Literary Period: British Romantic 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Self, Person vs. Nature 
  • Structure: 7-Part Ballad, ABCB Rhyme Scheme 
  • Mood: Imaginative, Fantastical, Dramatic

Texts That Go Well With “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

“Kubla Khan” is another famous poem by Coleridge, written at the same time as “Mariner” but published in 1816. While these two poems are Coleridge’s most famous, they are remarkably different. The story of “Kubla Khan”’s inspiration and composition is arguably as famous as the poem itself. Under the influence of opium, Coleridge claimed 200–300 lines of the poem came to him in a vivid dream. Upon waking, Coleridge scrambled to write the poem down, but only managed to record a small portion before being interrupted by a knock on the door, causing him to forget the remaining lines. It is thought that the final stanza of the poem was written post-interruption, as it deals with the loss of vision or inspiration. 

“Ode to the West Wind” is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley first published in 1820, two decades after Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” The poem deals with a number of the same conceits; namely, the use of natural elements as symbols for power, change, and inspiration. A number of Shelley’s poetic works deal with similar themes to that of Coleridge. It may prove useful to study Coleridge alongside his Romantic contemporaries. 

Pirates of the Caribbean is a blockbuster movie series that first premiered in 2003. Students are likely to be familiar with the series, which shares not only its nautical setting with Coleridge’s poem, but also a number of key motifs and themes. In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl, the pirate crew are afflicted with the curse of “undeath,” giving them immortality but causing them to appear as animated corpses in the moonlight. This curse draws obvious parallels to the reanimation of the Mariner’s crew, whose corpses come alive once more to power the ship. In another scene, men’s souls are bartered on a game on dice between Life and Death. 

“The Raven” is a narrative poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1845. Both cast symbols of birds as central to their tales, and both also include a number of supernatural elements. Coleridge undoubtedly had a pervasive influence on Poe since both belong to the Romantic era (although Poe begins to border the Gothic). It may be useful to study this later poem against “Mariner” to discuss its similarities and differences. 

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (song) is a musical re-telling of Coleridge’s poem by English heavy metal band Iron Maiden. The song was included in the band’s fifth studio album, Powerslave, released in 1984. The song includes pieces of the original poem in its lyrics, intertwined with a simplified version of the narrative. Iron Maiden’s rendition may serve to demonstrate how Coleridge’s poem continues to be relevant well into the 20th century, having become a part of popular culture.

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History of the Text