‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by S.T. Coleridge – An Analysis

‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a major voice in the Romantic movement along with William Wordsworth. This poem was perhaps the longest and most famous of all the poems that Coleridge wrote, including ‘Kubla Khan’.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a British Romantic poet who was a major voice in the Romantic movement along with his contemporary, William Wordsworth. Coleridge was a deeply religious man and his beliefs reflected in his poetry.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Unfortunately, he had a sad life, with him being married to someone he did not love to his lifelong addiction to opium. In spite of these difficulties, he proved o be one of the most influential romantic poets of all time, with poems like ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, ‘Kubla Khan‘, ‘Dejection: An ode’ and ‘The Nightingale’.

Summary of the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a ballad narrated by an old mariner to a wedding guest about the great misfortune that befell him when he was at sea.

The poem begins by introducing the Ancient Mariner, who, with his “glittering eye,” stops a Wedding Guest from attending a nearby wedding celebration. The Mariner stops the young man to tell him the story of a ship, providing no introduction but simply beginning his tale.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

His story begins with the ship leaving the harbor and sailing southward. A tremendous storm then blows the ship even further to the South Pole, where the crew is trapped in between ice and mist when suddenly, an Albatross breaks the pristine lifelessness of the Antarctic.

The sailors greet it as a good omen, and day after day the albatross appears, soaring behind the ship. But one day, suddenly, the Mariner, for reasons unexplained, shoots and kills the albatross with his crossbow.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Story

The ship then encounters terrible events, with it moving into a stagnant sea where the sailors have no water to drink nor any food and some sailors dream that an angered Spirit has followed them from the pole. The crew then hangs the albatross around the Mariner’s neck.

In this terrible calm, trapped completely by the watery ocean that they cannot drink, when the Mariner sees what he believes is a ship approaching, he alerts the crew, who all grin out of joy. But the joy fades as the ghostly ship, which sails without wind, approaches.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

On its deck, Death and Life-in-Death gamble with dice for the lives of the Sailors and the Mariner. After Life-in-Death wins the soul of the Mariner, the Sailors begin to die of thirst, falling to the deck one by one, each staring at the Mariner in reproach.

The Mariner is surrounded by the dead Sailors and cursed continuously by their gaze when he notices beautiful Water Snakes swimming beside the ship.

Facts The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

At this moment he has a spiritual realization that all of God’s creatures are beautiful and must be treated with respect and reverence. With this realization, he is finally able to pray, and the albatross fell from his neck and sunk into the sea.

The Mariner falls into a kind of stupor and then wakes to find the dead Sailors’ bodies reanimated by angels and at work on the ship. Powered by the Spirit from the South Pole, the ship races homeward, where the Mariner sees a choir of angels leave the bodies of the deceased Sailors.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Mariner then explains to the Wedding Guest that he must suffer from agony if he doesn’t give in to his urge to share the story and that he can tell just from looking at their faces which men must hear his tale.

He ends with the explicit lesson that prayer is the greatest joy in life, and the best players come from love and reverence of all of God’s creation. Thus he moves onward to find the next person who must hear his story, leaving the Wedding Guest “a sadder and a wiser man.”

Analysis of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’

The poem deals with the theme of the Christian parable of sin, penance, and redemption. In the sailing community, killing an albatross is considered to be bad luck because it is supposed to be the soul of an old sailor.

Coleridge projected his own life into the fable of the mariner, drawing parallels between his voyage on the sea and its hardships compared to his own life. Coleridge thought that nature was somewhat mystical and always possessed the quality of purity and at the same time, great power.

His idea was to make the most complicated of scenarios simple as opposed to Wordsworth’s perseverance of finding something more in the simplest of scenarios.

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