The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Summary
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner book cover
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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Summary

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a narrative poem in which a mariner tells a wedding guest about a harrowing voyage he once endured.

  • The mariner’s ship sailed toward the South Pole amid “mist and snow.”
  • An albatross appeared, and the mariner shot it with a crossbow, thus cursing the crew.
  • Deathly spirits arrive and kill all of the crew but the mariner.
  • After drifting alone without food or water, the mariner finds the ship mysteriously borne back to land.
  • The mariner now wanders the world, telling his tale.

Summary

Part 1

An ancient mariner stops a man who is on his way to a wedding. The wedding guest is eager to get to the feast, but the ancient mariner “holds him with his skinny hand” and insists on telling him a story. Something in the mariner’s eyes holds the wedding guest transfixed, and the guest sits down and listens as the mariner tells his tale.

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The mariner begins by saying that his ship left harbor in fine weather. However, a storm soon blew up, with strong winds, mist, and snow. Huge emerald-green icebergs came floating past the ship, which was soon surrounded by ice. At length, an albatross came flying through the fog. The crew greeted the bird in God’s name, and it seemed to have brought them good luck, for the ship broke safely through the ice, and a favorable wind sprang up.

The wedding guest, thinking this is the end of the story, congratulates the ancient mariner on his lucky escape. However, the ancient mariner sadly tells the wedding guest that he shot the albatross with his crossbow.

Part 2

The mariner’s shipmates were angry with him for killing the albatross, since they believed it had brought the favorable wind with it. However, when the sun rose, they changed their minds, saying that the albatross had brought the fog and mist, and the mariner was right to slay it.

At first, the ship sailed on at a good pace, but then the ocean became calm. For day after day, there was no wind, and the ship remained still under the fiercely hot sun. There was water all around them, yet none the crew could drink. The surrounding ocean seemed to rot, and the crew thought themselves plagued by an evil spirit. They could not even speak. The rest of the crew looked angrily at the ancient mariner and hung the albatross around his neck to mark his shame.

Part 3

It was a “weary time” for all the sailors. Looking westward, the ancient mariner finally saw something on the horizon, no bigger than a speck. The shape “plunged and tacked and veered” across the water, until the ancient mariner could finally see what it was, yet his mouth was too dry for him to speak. He bit his arm and sucked out the blood, to enable him to cry that he had seen a sail. The ship stopped tacking and headed towards them.

The ship was sailing in front of the setting sun. The mariner realized that he could see the sun through the ship, as though it were a skeleton. The sails were like spiders’ webs, and there were only two sailors: Death and Life-in-Death. Death was a skeleton, while Life-in-Death was a terrifying figure of a woman with red lips, golden hair, and skin “as white as leprosy.” The two were playing dice as the ghostly ship came alongside them, and Life-in-Death won the life of the ancient mariner, while Death claimed the other sailors.

As night fell, the mysterious ship sailed away. Suddenly, everyone on the mariner’s ship began to die. There were two hundred of them, and all of their souls flew from their bodies—just as the arrow had flown from the mariner’s crossbow to kill the albatross.

Part 4

The wedding guest interrupts the ancient mariner, expressing fear that he seems unearthly and may be a ghost. The mariner reassures him that he alone did not die. He stayed alone on the ship after everyone else was dead. He did not know where to turn his eyes: all he could see was the putrid sea and the corpses rotting on deck. He tried to pray, but his heart turned dry as dust when he did so. He...

(The entire section is 1,311 words.)