August 19, 2021

From Gerald R. Lucas

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner[a]
By: Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)[1][b]

in seven parts[c]
Part 1

An old mariner stops a group on their way to a wedding. The leader of the group listens to the mariner’s story. The mariner’s tale starts out with calm seas and a happy crew, but a sudden storm and strange weather change the mood. The mariner’s actions upset the crew.

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
“By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide, 5
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.”[d]

He holds him with his skinny hand,
“There was a ship,” quoth he. 10
“Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!”
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years child: 15
The Mariner hath his will.[e]

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner. 20

“The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the light-house top.

The Sun came up upon the left, 25
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.[f]

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—” 30
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes 35
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner. 40

“And now the storm-blast came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow, 45
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled. 50

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts 55
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around: 60
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross:
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul, 65
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through! 70

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,[g]
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners’ hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud, 75
It perched for vespers nine;[h]
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.”

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!— 80
Why look’st thou ”—With my cross-bow
I shot the Albatross.[2][i]



Part 2

The conditions at sea improve, causing the crew to change their opinion of the mariner. When the conditions change for the worse the crew force the mariner to wear the dead albatross as a sign of guilt.

The Sun now rose upon the right:[3]
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left 85
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariners’ hollo! 90

And I had done an hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay 95
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist. 100
’Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.[j]

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free:
We were the first that ever burst 105
Into that silent sea.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
’Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea! 110

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,[k]
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day, 115
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.[l]

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink; 120
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs 125
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires[4] danced at night;
The water, like a witch's oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white. 130

And some in dreams assured were
Of the spirit that plagued us so:
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought, 135
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young! 140
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.



Part 3

The crew is overtaken with thirst. The approach of another ship causes the mariner to become hopeful. But as the ship gets ever closer, his hope turns to dread.

There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time![m] 145
How glazed each weary eye,
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist: 150
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,[5] 155
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could not laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood![n]
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood, 160
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in, 165
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel! 170

The western wave was all a-flame
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright Sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly 175
Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven's Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered,
With broad and burning face. 180

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,
Like restless gossameres![6]

Are those her ribs through which the Sun 185
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that woman's mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free, 190
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-Mare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk[7] alongside came, 195
And the twain were casting dice;[o]
“The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!”
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark; 200
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea.
Off shot the spectre-bark.[8]

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip! 205
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clombe above the eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright star 210
Within the nether tip.[9]

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye. 215

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly,— 220
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my cross-bow!



Part 4

As the Mariner’s tale continues, his appearance starts to alarm the wedding guest. The Mariner tells of the crew’s fate. After a period alone on the ship a prayer releases the weight of his guilt.

“I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand! 225
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.

I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.”—
Fear not, fear not, thou Wedding-Guest! 230
This body dropt not down.[p]

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony. 235

The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.

I looked upon the rotting sea, 240
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to Heaven, and tried to pray:
But or ever a prayer had gusht, 245
A wicked whisper came, and made
my heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky 250
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

The cold sweat melted from their limbs,
Nor rot nor reek did they:
The look with which they looked on me 255
Had never passed away.

An orphan’s curse would drag to Hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is a curse in a dead man’s eye! 260
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

The moving Moon went up the sky,
And no where did abide:
Softly she was going up, 265
And a star or two beside.[q]

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,
Like April hoar-frost spread;
But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmed water burnt alway 270
A still and awful red.

Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light 275
Fell off in hoary flakes.

Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled and swam; and every track 280
Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things![r] no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware: 285
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

The self same moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank 290
Like lead into the sea.



Part 5

The weather once again changes for the better, quenching the thirst of the Mariner. The crew, although changed, continue to perform their assigned duties.

Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
To Mary Queen the praise be given!
She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven, 295
That slid into my soul.

The silly buckets on the deck,
That had so long remained,
I dreamt that they were filled with dew;
And when I awoke, it rained. 300

My lips were wet, my throat was cold,
My garments all were dank;
Sure I had drunken in my dreams,
And still my body drank.

I moved, and could not feel my limbs: 305
I was so light—almost
I thought that I had died in sleep,
And was a blessed ghost.[s]

And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear; 310
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!
And a hundred fire-flags sheen,[10]
To and fro they were hurried about! 315
And to and fro, and in and out,
The wan stars danced between.

And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge;[11]
And the rain poured down from one black cloud; 320
The Moon was at its edge.

The thick black cloud was cleft, and still
The Moon was at its side:
Like waters shot from some high crag,
The lightning fell with never a jag, 325
A river steep and wide.

The loud wind never reached the ship,
Yet now the ship moved on!
Beneath the lightning and the Moon
The dead men gave a groan. 330

They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on; 335
Yet never a breeze up blew;
The mariners all ’gan work the ropes,
Where they were wont to do:
They raised their limbs like lifeless tools—
We were a ghastly crew. 340

The body of my brother’s son,
Stood by me, knee to knee:
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said nought to me.

“I fear thee, ancient Mariner!” 345
Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
’Twas not those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corses came again,
But a troop of spirits blest:

For when it dawned—they dropped their arms, 350
And clustered round the mast;
Sweet sounds rose slowly through their mouths,
And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,
Then darted to the Sun; 355
Slowly the sounds came back again,
Now mixed, now one by one.

Sometimes a-dropping from the sky
I heard the sky-lark sing;
Sometimes all little birds that are, 360
How they seemed to fill the sea and air
With their sweet jargoning!

And now ’twas like all instruments,
Now like a lonely flute;
And now it is an angel’s song, 365
That makes the Heavens be mute.

It ceased; yet still the sails made on
A pleasant noise till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June, 370
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.

Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe:
Slowly and smoothly went the ship, 375
Moved onward from beneath.

Under the keel nine fathom deep,
From the land of mist and snow,
The spirit slid: and it was he
That made the ship to go. 380
The sails at noon left off their tune,
And the ship stood still also.

The Sun, right up above the mast,
Had fixed her to the ocean:
But in a minute she ’gan stir, 385
With a short uneasy motion—
Backwards and forwards half her length
With a short uneasy motion.

Then like a pawing horse let go,
She made a sudden bound: 390
It flung the blood into my head,
And I fell down in a swound.[t]

How long in that same fit I lay,
I have not to declare;
But ere my living life returned, 395
I heard and in my soul discerned
Two voices in the air.

“Is it he?” quoth one, “Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low, 400
The harmless Albatross.

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.” 405

The other was a softer voice,
As soft as honey-dew:
Quoth he, “The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.”



Part 6

Phantom voices question the what is driving the ship forward. As the voices disappear, the Mariner awakes to find the crew glaring at him. The ship approaches shore.

first voice

“But tell me, tell me! speak again, 410
Thy soft response renewing—
What makes that ship drive on so fast?
What is the ocean doing?”

second voice

“Still as a slave before his lord,
The ocean hath no blast; 415
His great bright eye most silently
Up to the Moon is cast—

If he may know which way to go;
For she guides him smooth or grim
See, brother, see! how graciously 420
She looketh down on him.”

first voice

“But why drives on that ship so fast,
Without or wave or wind?”

second voice

“The air is cut away before,
And closes from behind. 425

Fly, brother, fly! more high, more high
Or we shall be belated:
For slow and slow that ship will go,
When the Mariner's trance is abated.”

I woke, and we were sailing on 430
As in a gentle weather:
’Twas night, calm night, the Moon was high;
The dead men stood together.

All stood together on the deck,
For a charnel-dungeon fitter: 435
All fixed on me their stony eyes,
That in the Moon did glitter.

The pang, the curse, with which they died,
Had never passed away:
I could not draw my eyes from theirs, 440
Nor turn them up to pray.

And now this spell was snapt: once more
I viewed the ocean green.
And looked far forth, yet little saw
Of what had else been seen— 445

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend 450
Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,[u]
Nor sound nor motion made:
Its path was not upon the sea,
In ripple or in shade. 455

It raised my hair, it fanned my cheek
Like a meadow-gale of spring—
It mingled strangely with my fears,
Yet it felt like a welcoming.

Swiftly, swiftly flew the ship, 460
Yet she sailed softly too:
Sweetly, sweetly blew the breeze—
On me alone it blew.

Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see? 465
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?
Is this mine own countree!

We drifted o’er the harbour-bar,
And I with sobs did pray—
O let me be awake, my God! 470
Or let me sleep alway.

The harbour-bay was clear as glass,
So smoothly it was strewn!
And on the bay the moonlight lay,
And the shadow of the moon. 475

The rock shone bright, the kirk no less,
That stands above the rock:
The moonlight steeped in silentness
The steady weathercock.

And the bay was white with silent light, 480
Till rising from the same,
Full many shapes, that shadows were,
In crimson colours came.

A little distance from the prow
Those crimson shadows were: 485
I turned my eyes upon the deck—
Oh, Christ! what saw I there!

Each corse lay flat, lifeless and flat,
And, by the holy rood!
A man all light, a seraph-man, 490
On every corse there stood.

This seraph band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lovely light: 495

This seraph-band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart—
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

But soon I heard the dash of oars; 500
I heard the Pilot’s cheer;
My head was turned perforce away,
And I saw a boat appear.

The Pilot, and the Pilot’s boy,
I heard them coming fast: 505
Dear Lord in Heaven! it was a joy
The dead men could not blast.

I saw a third—I heard his voice:
It is the Hermit good!
He singeth loud his godly hymns 510
That he makes in the wood.
He’ll shrieve my soul, he’ll wash away
The Albatross’s blood.



Part 7

The crew of an approaching boat is apprehensive about getting closer to the Mariner’s ship. The sudden sinking of the ship put everyone in harm’s way. The Mariner is compelled to share his story with the Hermit, and eases his own pain in the process.

This Hermit good lives in that wood
Which slopes down to the sea. 515
How loudly his sweet voice he rears!
He loves to talk with marineres
That come from a far countree.

He kneels at morn and noon and eve—
He hath a cushion plump: 520
It is the moss that wholly hides
The rotted old oak-stump.

The skiff-boat neared: I heard them talk,
“Why this is strange, I trow!
Where are those lights so many and fair, 525
That signal made but now?”

“Strange, by my faith!” the Hermit said—
“And they answered not our cheer!
The planks looked warped! and see those sails,
How thin they are and sere! 530
I never saw aught like to them,
Unless perchance it were

Brown skeletons of leaves that lag
My forest-brook along;
When the ivy-tod is heavy with snow, 535
And the owlet whoops to the wolf below,
That eats the she-wolf’s young.”

“Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look”—
(The Pilot made reply)
“I am a-feared”—“Push on, push on!” 540
Said the Hermit cheerily.

The boat came closer to the ship,
But I nor spake nor stirred;
The boat came close beneath the ship,
And straight a sound was heard. 545

Under the water it rumbled on,
Still louder and more dread:
It reached the ship, it split the bay;
The ship went down like lead.

Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound, 550
Which sky and ocean smote,
Like one that hath been seven days drowned
My body lay afloat;
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot’s boat. 555

Upon the whirl, where sank the ship,
The boat spun round and round;
And all was still, save that the hill
Was telling of the sound.

I moved my lips—the Pilot shrieked 560
And fell down in a fit;
The holy Hermit raised his eyes,
And prayed where he did sit.

I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy,
Who now doth crazy go, 565
Laughed loud and long, and all the while
His eyes went to and fro.
“Ha! ha!” quoth he, “full plain I see,
The Devil knows how to row.”

And now, all in my own countree, 570
I stood on the firm land!
The Hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.

“O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!”[12]
The Hermit crossed his brow.[13] 575
“Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say—
What manner of man art thou?”

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale; 580
And then it left me free.[v]

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns. 585

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:[w]
To him my tale I teach. 590

What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The wedding-guests are there:
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bride-maids singing are:
And hark the little vesper bell, 595
Which biddeth me to prayer!

O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely ’twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be. 600

O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
’Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!—

To walk together to the kirk, 605
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends,
And youths and maidens gay!

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell 610
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small; 615
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.[x]

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest 620
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.[y] 625


Commentary

  1. In chapter 14 of the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge states his poetic objective is to achieve “a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”
         Usually interpreted as either a contemporary gothic ballad or a revised medieval Christian allegory of the fall of man (see Bloom 2001, p. 15 and Bloom 2011, p. 5), Rime is a narrative of crime and punishment, of sin and redemption: of an act that breaks the harmony between a man and nature, and he must find his way through hell back to redemption. This idea is a tenet of Romanticism—the healing power of nature can bring an integral harmony to life. Also, the importance of the poet’s prism on life shows the necessity of storytelling in maintaining harmony in culture and community.
         Notice, too, the other aspects of Romanticism that Rime exhibits: the outlaw man of feeling and exotic, gothic imagery rooted in a mythic past. Bloom calls it a “phantasmagoria of the unlived life” that taunts those who lack drive or imagination (Bloom 2001, p. 10).
  2. In the 1817 version of the poem, Coleridge amended a epigraph that he adapted from Thomas Burnet’s Archaeologie Philosophicae: “I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe. But who will explain for us the family and relations and distinguishing features and functions of each? What do they do? What places do they inhabit? The human mind has always sought the knowledge of these things, but never attained it. Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the petty things of daily life, narrow itself and sink wholly into trivial thoughts. But at the same time we must be watchful for the truth and keep a sense of proportion, so that we distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night.”
  3. Coleridge describes the origin of this poem in the opening section of Chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria. In a note on his “We Are Seven,” in 1843, Wordsworth added some details. The poem, based on a dream of a skeleton ship by Coleridge's friend John Cruikshank, was originally planned as a collaboration between the two friends, to pay the expense of a walking tour they took with Dorothy Wordsworth in the spring of 1798. Before he dropped out of the enterprise, Wordsworth suggested the shooting of the albatross and the navigation of the ship by the dead men; he also contributed lines 13-16 and 226-227.
         The version of Rime printed in Lyrical Ballads (1798) contained many archaic words and spellings. In later editions Coleridge greatly improved the poem by pruning the archaisms, and by other revisions; he also added the Latin epigraph by Burnet and the marginal glosses, which Empson (2010, p. 73) calls “misleading” and recommends removing them, which I do not include here.
  4. The mariner interrupts a wedding, one of the sacraments of the Catholic church, for one of the three guests only (l. 2) for reasons not explained (Bloom 2001, p. 16). A wedding is a union, and the importance of unity becomes a central theme in Rime. The mariner’s actions will show him to be a callous man who does not yet see the importance of the unity of all life; Perry reads Rime as a poem “poised between a blessed vision of unity and the catastrophe of chaos” (Perry 2010, p. 148).
  5. The Mariner has mesmerized the wedding guest: think of it like a kind of hypnotism. This is the first hint of the supernatural forces at work in the poem and the mariner himself. As Rumens (2009) points out, the narrative drive and almost motion-picture shifting between the mariner’s tale and festive wedding has an almost hypnotic effect on the readers, compelling us to read on. Indeed, the strong simple narrative, the haunting imagery, and the rhythm and sounds—like Poe’s “The Raven” has perpetuated this poem’s popularity, helping achieve Coleridge’s goal of a “willing suspension of disbelief.” And like Poe’s poem, this allows readers to both enjoy the poem on a visceral level, but also contemplate its reflections on life and death.
         Rime seems to suggest the importance of storytelling in human community, as the mariner’s compulsion to tell his story to the wedding guest is centered in morality—in a drive to help others who might be lost find wisdom in his story. Here, the mariner acts as scapegoat for the betterment of humanity.
  6. A whole stanza to show the ship was headed south. Notice the weather is clement, showing that harmony still exists between the ship and nature.
  7. Whalley reads Rime as allegory: the Albatross is the bringer of the gentle southern wind and should be associated with poetic genius; the mariner is the poet himself who brings us in touch with “the most intense personal suffering, perplexity, loneliness, longing, horror, fear. . . . that nightmare land that Coleridge inhabited, the realm of Life-in-Death” (Whalley 1947, p. 382). Killing the albatross kills the poetic genius.
  8. The albatross is linked to Christianity with lines 65–66 above and here, as it participates in the evening devotion, so could be interpreted as a sacred bird (Bloom 2001, p. 16).
  9. Rumens (2009) states that Coleridge seems to associate his opium addiction with the transgression of the mariner. In a letter to his friend John Morgan, Coleridge writes: “What Crime is there scarcely which has not been included in or followed from the one guilt of taking opium? Not to speak of ingratitude to my maker for the wasted Talents; of ingratitude to so many friends who have loved me I know not why; of barbarous neglect of my family . . . I have in this one dirty business of Laudanum an hundred times deceived, tricked, nay, actually & consciously lied. —And yet all these vices are so opposite to my nature, that but for the free-agency-annihilating Poison, I verily believe that I should have suffered myself to be cut in pieces rather than have committed any one of them” (quoted in Rumens (2009)).
         The mariner’s action, too, seems to be unprovoked and ambiguous, suggesting an evil motivated him to kill the bird and thus injure his community. Bloom writes that in medieval tradition, the benign stranger, here the albatross, must be offered hospitality and a warm reception, so by killing it, the mariner violates this social code and commits a mortal sin (Bloom 2001, p. 16).
         James Parker (2020) calls the murdered albatross a “bottomless symbol” that “stands for everything you greedily grabbed at, everything you squandered or spurned, every ornament of the ego.” It severs the mariner from the harmony of his world, much like the current pandemic has all done to us, and we are all now drifting in a liminal zone between the old world and the new one that will replace it.
  10. The crew becomes like the chorus of a Greek tragedy, commenting on the mariner’s rash action and the increasing gloom as they travel toward an unknown destination (Bloom 2001, p. 17).
  11. Natural phenomena have become inverted, and below crawling, slimy things, suggest a vision of hell that gets worse as the ship progresses (Bloom 2001, p. 17).
  12. These are images of life-in-death, where “everything is devoid of motion and vitality” (Bloom 2001, p. 17).
  13. As the ship travels further, the senses are further depraved and time seems to weigh on their souls, offering no solace for their suffering.
  14. Bloom states: “Coleridge builds a ‘poetic’ collaboration between a distorted natural world and a vengeance-seeking spiritual world” (Bloom 2001, p. 17). The spirits begin to materialize below.
  15. This game of chance between Death and Life-in-Death, seems to be a metaphor for the mariner’s true transgression: going through life without experiencing life, carelessly, arrogantly and missing the joy of the natural world. Rumens (2009) reads this as further representing Coleridge and his additions, caught in a game between Death and Life-in-Death.
  16. I.e., the mariner attempts to reassure the wedding guest that he need not be afraid because the mariner survived his horrific ordeal.
  17. A margin note added by Coleridge in the 1817 version of the poem helps to illuminate this stanza further: “In his loneliness and fixedness he yearneth towards the journeying Moon, and the stars that still sojourn, yet still move onward; and every where the blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and their native country and their own natural homes, which they enter unannounced, as lords that are certainly expected and yet there is a silent joy at their arrival.” This begins to break the spell of Life-in-Death and might be leading to the mariner’s redemption.
  18. The mariner’s attitude changes, as if he is seeing the “living things” for the first time. His heart seems to melt and he begins to feel a connection to them, resulting in the Albatross—the psychological weight—falling from his neck. Bloom suggests this is the beginning of the mariner’s spiritual transformation (Bloom 2001, p. 18).
  19. Bloom sees this as part of the mariner’s spiritual renewal: he is less concerned with his physical body as he begins to concentrate on the health of his soul (Bloom 2001, p. 18).
  20. Since the mariner seems to stay conscious, this might be more like a religious trance, where he is able to hear the two spirits talking below (Bloom 2001, p. 19).
  21. Wind is always significant to the romantic poet, usually connoting spirit that’s healing and benign (Bloom 2001, p. 20).
  22. Like an evil spirit has been exorcised from the mariner, the final step, states Bloom, toward spiritual redemption (Bloom 2001, p. 20).
  23. A careless man, perhaps, like one who might shoot an albatross for no reason.
  24. Indeed, a lesson we might need more today than Coleridge’s readers did: have respect for our world and all the creatures in it. Humans have grown careless in their arrogance, pushing out the mysteries and sublimity of the natural world that could teach us humility. The lesson here seems to be similar to Wordsworth’s in “The World Is too Much with Us.”
         In 1830, Coleridge writes the following in response to poet Anne Barbauld’s criticism that Rime had no moral: “I told her that in my own judgment the poem had too much; and the only, or chief fault, if I might say so, was the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly on the reader as a principle or cause of action in a work of such pure imagination. It ought to have had no more moral than the Arabian Nights’ tale of the merchant’s sitting down to eat dates by the side of a well, and throwing the shells aside, and lo! a genie starts up, and says he must kill the aforesaid merchant, because one of the date shells had, it seems, put out the eye of the genie’s son.” (See Greenblatt 2018, p. 274.)
         Barbauld’s comment seems pretty dense to me, as the heavy-handed Christian morality seems to smack us upside the head at the end.
  25. The ending is ambiguous, as the wedding guest does not participate in the wedding sacrament, but instead is still captivated by the imaginative tale of the mariner.

Notes and References

  1. The text and introductions are from Coleridge, S. T. (1798). The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. London: A. Arch, Gracechurch Street.
  2. The albatross is a symbol of good luck, but in Rime it becomes symbolic of a psychological burden.
  3. The ship has rounded Cape Horn and now heads north into the Pacific Ocean.
  4. This could be referencing the phosphorescence of the decomposing sea creature in line 123, or St. Elmo’s fire: an atmospheric discharge along a ship’s rigging—an ill omen.
  5. Sometimes called a water faery, a water-sprite is an elemental spirit associated with water.
  6. Gauze-like. Here the sail, like the ship, suggest a skeleton, or something worn down and decaying.
  7. The skeleton ship.
  8. The ghost ship. A “bark” is a ship.
  9. Another portent of evil.
  10. This might be a reference to St. Elmo’s fire (l. 261), or perhaps to the Southern Lights.
  11. Flowering plants, sedges may be found growing in almost all environments, many are associated with wetlands, or with poor soils.
  12. I.e., hear my confession and grant me absolution.
  13. He made the sign of the cross on his forehead.

Bibliography

  • Bloom, Harold (2011). "Introduction". In Bloom, Harold. The Romantic Poets. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism.
  • — (2001). Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Bloom’s Major Poets. New York: Chelsea House.
  • Empson, William (2010) [1993]. "The Ancient Mariner: An Answer to Warren". In Bloom, Harold. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views (New ed.). New York: Infobase Publishing. pp. 71–97.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. (2018). The Norton Anthology of English Literature. The Major Authors. 2 (Tenth ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Parker, James (May 13, 2020). "The 1798 Poem That Was Made for 2020". The Atlantic. Books. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  • Perry, Seamus (2010) [1999]. "Coda: The Incomprehensible Mariner". In Bloom, Harold. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views (New ed.). New York: Infobase Publishing. pp. 147–156.
  • Rumens, Carol (October 26, 2009). "Poem of the week: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge". The Guardian. Books Blog. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  • Whalley, George (1947). "The Mariner and the Albatross". University of Toronto Quarterly. 16 (4): 381–398. Retrieved 2021-08-21.

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