Posted: September 20th, 2022

Rime of the Ancient Mariner Discussion

Answer 1 question from each of the theme worksheets on Rime of the Ancient Mariner



The Rime of the Ancient Mariner goes through several important transformations at key points,

like after the Mariner shoots the albatross, but the most important transformation is the

Mariner’s conversion from prideful jerk who hates large birds to pious soul who can pray for

even the ugliest creatures. The albatross that hangs around his neck represents the burden of

his sins, which fall away when he repents and blesses the sea snakes. However, he hasn’t simply

wiped away his evil deeds after this transformation. His penance continues throughout the rest

of his life, every time he feels the painful urge to tell his story.

Questions About Transformation:

What brings about the Mariner’s sudden change of heart toward the hideous sea snakes?



Who do you think the two “voices” in Part VI represent? Do they stand for specific people or

ideas? Explain.



What kinds of transformations does the moon undergo in the poem, and how do they relate to

the Mariner’s condition? Explain.



Why is the Wedding Guest a “sadder and wiser” man at the end of the poem? Do you think he

was affected by the Mariner’s moral (“he prayeth well who loveth well”), or just by the story as

a whole?



Chew on This:

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Mariner’s supposed moral is too simplistic and does not reflect the true lessons to be

learned from the story. He remains blind to the meaning of his own words.

The Mariner’s blessing of the sea-snakes is not a Christian conversion, but rather an affirmation

of the pantheist belief that God is nothing more than the totality of nature.



Suffering is sometimes the only way to change someone’s habits for good, and it takes a whole

lot of this painful medicine in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to make the Mariner realize that

all of nature’s creations are worthy of love and respect. The entire poem, but especially the

middle section concerning the drought, contains enough suffering to last several lifetimes. Our

vote for the most cringe-worthy moment is when the Mariner has to bite his arm to wet his

black lips with his own blood so that he can yell.

Questions About Suffering:

What is the worst punishment that the Mariner must suffer in the poem?



Why does the crew get killed but not the Mariner, who shot the bird? Is their fate worse than




What does the second voice mean by saying, “The man hath penance done, and penance more

will do” (V.92)? What kind of penance does the Mariner perform in the poem?



Why does the Mariner feel the sudden urge to tell his story to other people? Does he continue

to suffer in this way?



Chew on This:

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The Mariner’s story telling is a part of the penance he must perform throughout his life.

The crew’s fate in death is no worse than the Mariner’s, who must live on in a state of Life-in-

Death. The crew does not receive a raw deal from the powers that be.

Even though
Samuel Taylor

Coleridge’s Rime
of the Ancient

Mariner is one of
the most

influential poems
in the English

language, it’s still
a doozy of a

confusing read.

It’s about an old
sailor who stops
a wedding guest
from entering a

celebration, and


I know you want to get
your drink and your dance

on, folks, but now I’m
going to tell you a really
long story about how I

got my entire crew killed
and almost died myself
because I acted like a

jerk while sailing the far
reaches of the globe…

Chances are that this poem is
unlike anything you’ve read

before. It will probably leave
you with a bunch of


Why does Coleridge speak in
such an old-fashioned voice?
Why does the poem sound so

Did Coleridge think this poem

was a big joke?
Why is the Mariner saved
after committing such an

atrocious act?

None of these questions
are stupid or silly.
Depending on your

tolerance for ghost
stories that are filled

with strange images and
questions that never get

answered, you’ll either be
fascinated by the

Mariner and his crazy
exploits, or you’ll be

completely frustrated by

Rime of the Ancient Mariner/The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Poem

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

The title has different levels of meaning. On the most basic
level, the poem is a “rhyme” – that is, it has rhyming verses –

told by an old sailor, or mariner.
Simple enough.

But why is “rhyme” spelled “rime”? Ah, now it gets
interesting. In addition to “rhyme,” the word “rime” means
frost, and specifically the frost that forms in fog and wind

when the temperature cools down. “Rime” often forms on
the windy side of sails and ships. Much of the poem takes

place in the Arctic, in a “land of ice and snow,” and you
expect to encounter a lot of rime in that climate.

Furthermore, the Mariner himself is described as being
“frosty” in some respects. For example, his beard is described

as frosty or, “hoary.” If you wanted to turn this idea into
symbolism, you might say that the Mariner’s soul is covered
with a layer of frost until he learns to have pity on his fellow


Finally, he’s an “ancient” mariner because, clearly, he’s very
old. “Ancient” makes him sound like some timeless artifact,

one that has always existed and always will exist.

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

Part the First.

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,

And I am next of kin;

The guests are met, the feast is set:

May’st hear the merry din.”

Just as the poem has two different
narratives, it also has two different
settings. The first setting is outside

the wedding hall. There is no way to
know in what year or even century
the poem takes place, but it must

have been after the Age of
Exploration, because the Mariner

describes a voyage all the way down
to the Arctic. As for the place, we

know the Mariner and the Wedding
Guest come from somewhere in the
British Isles, but not exactly where.
Judging by the use of the Scottish

word “kirk,” and the fact that ballads
were popular in Scotland, this poem

could be set in that region.

He holds him with his skinny hand,

“There was a ship,” quoth he.

“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:

The Mariner hath his will.

The wedding, quite
frankly, sounds like a
rockin’ time. There’s

singing, dancing,
drinking, and a whole
lot of merry-making.
But we only hear all
this revelry behind
closed doors. The
Wedding Guest is
sitting on a rock

outside the feast, and
maybe he catches a

glimpse or two of the
party when people
enter or leave. But

that’s it. Otherwise,
he’s just sitting in the
darkness listening to a
grizzled old man with

magnetic eyes.

The Wedding–Guest sat on a stone:

He cannot chuse but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner.

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,

Out of the sea came he!

And he shone bright, and on the right

Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,

Till over the mast at noon —

The Wedding–Guest here beat his breast,

For he heard the loud bassoon.

You got to love a speaker
that says eleven words in
the first two lines before
passing the poem off to a
strange old man who likes

to hang around outside
wedding celebrations.

But, in all seriousness, the
speaker of the poem is

basically a narrator who
sets up the action in this

dramatic poem. The
narrative has two levels:
there’s the story of the

Mariner and the Wedding
Guest, and then there’s

the story-within-a-story of
the Mariner’s voyage,

which takes up most of
the poem. We can

comment briefly on the
nature of the narrator of

each story.

The bride hath paced into the hall,

Red as a rose is she;

Nodding their heads before her goes

The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding–Guest he beat his breast,

Yet he cannot chuse but hear;

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed Mariner.

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,

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.

In pretty much any poem
or novel about life at sea,
you can expect quite a lot
of attention to be devoted
to the weather. But who
could have expected a

huge fog near Antarctica, a
massive drought that turns
the ocean into a swamp, or
a lightning show that gets

dead people moving
again? Here’s the general
trajectory: the Mariner’s

ship gets driven down
south by a bad storm, then
the albatross guides them
through fog and ice, then

they suffer a truly
horrifying, windless

drought, the Mariner sees
a massive and

supernatural night-time
storm, and he finally gets
carried by invisible forces

back to the bay.

And now there came both mist and snow,

And it grew wondrous cold:

And ice, mast-high, came floating by,

As green as emerald.

The setting of the
Mariner’s story, on the

other hand, is full of
spectacular scenery and
supernatural elements.
Special emphasis is put
on the weather and on

astrological phenomena
like the sun, moon, and

stars. These are
obviously things of great
concern for sailors. The
story begins in the bay

with the receding
shoreline. The boat
travels down to the

equator and then to the
Arctic Ocean, where

they run into trouble in
an ice field. The ice is

cracking and groaning all
around them.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts

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:

It cracked and growled, and roared and


Like noises in a swound!

The storm that drives
the ship south is

metaphorically to

some kind of winged
predator on the hunt.

The ship is like the
animal at ground level

that runs in the
“shadow” of the

predator to escape it.

The ice near Antarctica
makes loud cracking

noises that sound “like
noises in a swound,”

that is, like the sounds
a fainting person might

hear. The word “like”
makes clear that this is



At length did cross an Albatross:

Thorough the fog it came;

As if it had been a Christian soul,

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!

And a good south wind sprung up behind;

The Albatross did follow,

And every day, for food or play,

Came to the mariners’ hollo!

Coleridge wrote The
Rime of the Ancient
Mariner, as well as
“Kubla Khan” and
“This Lime-Tree

Bower My Prison”
while living in

Somerset, England
in a village called
Nether Stowey. It

was one of the most
productive times of

his life.

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,

It perched for vespers nine;

Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke


Glimmered the white Moon-shine.

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?”— With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,

It perched for vespers nine;

Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke


Glimmered the white Moon-shine.

“God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?”— With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

When it came to using moonlight to create dramatic, otherworldly effects, Coleridge was as
shameless as a contemporary romance novelist. Many of his most famous poems – “Christabel,”
“Frost at Midnight,” “Dejection: An Ode,” “Kubla Khan,” and, of course, The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner – treat the moon as an object of profound mystery and mythic influence. In both Greek
and Roman mythology, the moon is a female goddess who exhibits a secret control over world
affairs, similar to the moon’s influence over the tides. Sometimes, the moon made you go crazy,
from which comes our word, “lunatic.” We don’t think this would be an entirely inappropriate word
for the Mariner.

We’ve got really mixed
feelings about the

albatross. If it hadn’t
come along, then sure,

the whole crew
probably would have
died in that ice field.
But, to be frank, the

consequences of
shooting the albatross

seem almost worse
than death. Maybe

that’s because shooting
it is a completely

senseless act. As a
persecuted figure of

salvation, the albatross
resembles Christ in

many ways, especially
when you consider that
a bird often symbolizes


Part the Second.

The Sun now rose upon the right:

Out of the sea came he,

Still hid in mist, and on the left

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!

Then, the albatross comes, accompanied by a strange mist, to lead them out of the ice. After the
albatross is killed, the setting shifts in the direction of the supernatural. The wind disappears, and
the ocean is eerily calm and glassy. The sails go slack. Meanwhile, the sun turns red, the water
changes color, and strange slippery creatures and sea-snakes come out. At night, these creatures
glow on the water with phosphorescent effects. This section of the poem is characterized by
extreme dryness, which we see in the drying of the sails and the appearance of the skeleton-like
Ghost Ship. The ocean is like a brackish swamp.

And what about that
ocean? The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner is set in
a time when, once you

crossed a certain point in
your ship, you could

expect not to see other
people for a long, long
time. As in many works

of literature, like Herman
Melville’s Moby-Dick, the

ocean represents the
mysteries of the human
soul and, if you want to
get all Sigmund Freud

about it, the
unconscious. Just like the

sea, an individual’s
personality is often like a
flat, uniform surface that

conceals a deepness
filled with those bizarre

and often unsightly
creatures we call

emotions or desires.

So, when the Mariner
pollutes his soul by killing

the albatross, it’s not a
surprise to see that the

ocean becomes polluted
with slime and horrible

creatures. Moreover, the
imagery of the vast,

vacant ocean, particularly
once the rest of the crew

has died, expresses a
condition of spiritual

solitude and loneliness.
It’s the kind of setting
that makes you realize
we’re truly all alone in

this world, with
seemingly infinite depths

above and below us.

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

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.

’Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,

That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,

The furrow followed free:

We were the first that ever burst

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!

All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody Sun, at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

When the wind dies
and the ship can’t
move, the scene is
compared using a

simile to a motionless

The ship’s shrunken
wood boards become
central image of the
terrible dryness that

the killing of the
albatross produces.

The crew becomes so
thirsty that it’s as if

their mouths were full
of dry “soot,” or
ashes, which is a


Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

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

Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout

The death-fires danced at night;

The water, like a witch’s oils,

Burnt green, and blue and white.

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.

The water begins
to turn strange

colors at night after
the albatross has
been killed. These

supernatural green,
blue, and white

lights are
compared in a

simile to “witch’s
oils,” which are

used for spells and

And every tongue, through utter drought,

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!

Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.

The one reading skill
this poem requires

more than any other is
patience. Not many

people have read
poems as long as this

one, except in
translation, where you

can often get away
with skimming. The
Rime of the Ancient

Mariner is packed with
interesting symbols
and images, and the

plot can turn on a

In one stanza, the
sailors are horrified

that the Mariner has
killed the albatross,
and in the next they

are blaming the
albatross for the fog,

and then they go back
to blaming the
Mariner. Not to

mention all the crazy
and confusing

elements, like the
spirit “nine-fathoms

under” that somehow
controls the boat.

Finally, Coleridge plays
on the old-fashioned
nature of the English

ballad by using archaic
words like “shrieve”

and “kirk.”
Fortunately, he also
recognizes that the
ballad is a popular

form, so the language
is mostly simple, and

there’s a lot of

This poem will task
your endurance, but, if
you give yourself the

time to read it the
whole way through –
twice – it won’t task

your noggin too much.

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

Part the Third.

There passed a weary time. Each throat

Was parched, and glazed each eye.

A weary time! a weary time!

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:

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,

It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips


We could not laugh nor wail;

Through utter drought all dumb we stood!

I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,

And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips


Agape they heard me call:

Gramercy! they for joy did grin,

And all at once their breath drew in,

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!

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

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.

If The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner were a song, it

would have to be a
country song.

The comparison between
the ballad and country

music is appropriate
because both are popular

folk genres. If you’re like us
and listen to country

music, you’ll notice that a
lot of the songs tell a story.
These stories might not be
as long as The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner, but the

idea is the same.
The singer wants to tell
you about some hard
times and then wrap

things up with a moral at
the end. The Mariner

himself is essentially just
his age’s version of a

trucker, except his open
road is the ocean.

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!

Are those her ribs through which the Sun

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,

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 alongside came,

And the twain were casting dice;

“The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!”

Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The sails of the ghost
ship are compared in

this simile to
“gossamers” or

The forces of Death

and Life-in-Death are
personified as the crew

of the Ghost Ship.
Life-In-Death is a

strange mix of the
beautiful and the

creepy, as evidenced
by two similes: her hair
is like gold, but her skin

is diseased like a
leper’s. The dice game
they play represents

the random fate of the

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:

At one stride comes the dark;

With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea.

Off shot the spectre-bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!

Fear at my heart, as at a cup,

My life-blood seemed to sip!

The stars were dim, and thick the night,

The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed


From the sails the dew did drip —

Till clombe above the eastern bar

The horned Moon, with one bright star

Within the nether tip.

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.

In this simile, the
skeleton-like Ghost
Ship makes the sun
look like a prisoner
staring through the
bars of a dungeon.

When the moon gets
horny, you’d better
watch out. Get your

mind out of the gutter:
we’re talking about the
image of the crescent

moon with two
“horns” pointing up.

One of the horns has a
star next to it. This

apparently does not
bode well for the crew:
they all start to die off.

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,—

They fled to bliss or woe!

And every soul, it passed me by,

Like the whizz of my CROSS-BOW!

“I fear thee, ancient Mariner!

I fear thy skinny hand!

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!

This body dropt not down.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,

Alone on a wide wide sea!

And never a saint took pity on

My soul in agony.

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,

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,

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


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

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!

Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,

And yet I could not die.

Not only is the weather
dry in the middle of the

poem, but so is the
Mariner’s heart. Dry, goes

the simile, as dust. His
prayer is halted by a

“wicked whisper.”

The curse of the sailors is
even worse than an

orphan’s curse, which
could drag a heavenly

spirit all the way down to
Hell. Yowza!

After the crew dies, the
water turns red in the

shadow of the ship. The
water snakes leave a white

light in their wake that
looks like “flakes” of frost.

The same light is
compared using metaphor

to “golden fire.”

The moving Moon went up the sky,

And no where did abide:

Softly she was going up,

And a star or two beside.

What is this, an astrology
lesson? With the attention
he pays to the moon, sun,
and stars, you’d think the
Mariner had a Tarot card

collection. Well, that’s
actually not too far,

considering that these
phenomena are invested

with supernatural powers,
particularly after the
Mariner shoots the

albatross. Above all, the
moon is calling the shots,

both in terms of the
Mariner’s punishment and

his eventual penance. Watch
out for any images of the
moon and its white light.

As is frequent in myth, the
moon is personified as

female. The moonlight is
compared in a simile to the

late spring frost in the
month of April.

Her beams bemocked the sultry main,

Like April hoar-frost spread;

But where the ship’s huge shadow lay,

The charmed water burnt alway

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

Fell off in hoary flakes.

When the Mariner
finally learns to pray,
the curse is broken

and the albatross falls
“like lead” (simile)

into the ocean.

Within the shadow of the ship

I watched their rich attire:

Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,

They coiled and swam; and every track

Was a flash of golden fire.

O happy living things! no tongue

Their beauty might declare:

A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware:

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

Like lead into the sea.

Part the Fifth.

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,

That slid into my soul.

The albatross becomes the defining
symbol of the Mariner’s big

mistake. As a symbol of the burden
of sin, it is compared explicitly to

the cross on which Jesus Christ was

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

The self same moment I could pray;

And from my neck so free

The Albatross fell off, and sank

Like lead into the sea.

Part the Fifth.

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,

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.

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:

I was so light — almost

I thought that I had died in sleep,

And was a blessed ghost.

And soon I heard a roaring wind:

It did not come anear;

But with its sound it shook the


That were so thin and sere.

The upper air burst into life!

And a hundred fire-flags sheen,

To and fro they were hurried about!

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;

And the rain poured down from one black


The Moon was at its edge.

Not only can he pray again,
but he can also sleep again.

Exhausted from all the
endless cursing and dying of

thirst, he falls asleep. He
credits Mary, the mother of

Christ, for this sleep.
Sleep is mythologized as a
gift from the Virgin Mary.

Naturally, he dreams about
drinking water. But his

dream actually comes true:
it rains when he wakes up.
Sailors are really good at
collecting rainwater from
their sails and in buckets,

and the Mariner has all the
water he needs.

(In reality, a severely
dehydrated person like that

would probably die from
drinking too much water too

fast, but we won’t quibble
with Coleridge on this one.)
He feels as light as if he had
died and was now a ghost.

But a happy ghost.

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,

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.

Now that the curse has been
lifted, more good news
follows. He hears a loud

wind in the distance.
The sound of the wind

rattles the dried out (“sere”)
sails. But it’s important to
remember that the wind

hasn’t reached the ship yet.
He sees new activity in the
sky. More stars return, and
he sees things he calls “fire-
flags.” We have to think he’s

either talking about weird
lightning flashes – but

without clouds to block the
stars – or the Aurora (in this
case, the Southern Lights).
He sees a black cloud, the
partial moon and lightning
falling in perfectly vertical

fashion. We’re not sure
exactly what’s going on,

except that these are wild

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;

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.

We learn that
angels control the

bodies of the
sailors. In the
morning, the
singing of the

angels is
compared in a

simile to singing
birds and to a
symphony of

instruments. A
pleasant noise
like a babbling

brook continues
to be heard after
the singing has


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!”

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


And clustered round the mast;

OK, so what was the point of the wind if it “never
reached the ship”? The wind was supposed make
the ship sail again, but it does no good at a
distance. Except if you have a mysterious force
moving your ship: score! Like a scene from
Frankenstein, the dead sailors rise up amid the
thunder and lightning. They look like zombies and
don’t say a word. But they all do the jobs they are
supposed to do, helping to sail the ship.
If you’re starting to suspect that the movie Pirates
of the Caribbean borrowed a lot of material from
Coleridge, we’re right there with you.
The Mariner goes with the flow, and he basically
says, “I don’t care if these guys are just bodies with
no souls, as long as we get moving again, I’ll help
The Wedding Guest interrupts the story again.
He’s not the bravest Wedding Guest we’ve ever
heard of. He’s afraid that the Mariner is now
telling a zombie story. The Mariner reassures the
frightened Wedding Guest that the bodies of the
sailors were possessed not by their original
owners, but by a bunch of good spirits, like angels.
Oh, that helps.
The Mariner continues his story…

Sweet sounds rose slowly through their


And from their bodies passed.

Around, around, flew each sweet sound,

Then darted to the Sun;

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,

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,

That makes the Heavens be mute.

He knew that spirits were
angels because, when
dawn comes, they all

escape from the bodies
and break out into song.
The spirits float around

the ship and sing like
birds. They are like an

entire symphony of
voices. They stop singing
after dawn, but the sails

continue to make a
pleasant sound like a

stream following through
a forest. The ship keeps
moving, but there’s no
wind. What gives? The

Mariner is sticking with his
theory that someone or
something is moving the

boat from underneath the

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,

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,

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.

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,

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:

It flung the blood into my head,

And I fell down in a swound.

The Mariner explains his
theory in more detail. The
same spirit “nine fathoms

deep” that earlier caused such
problems near the Arctic has
now decided to play nice and

guide the ship up to the
equator. At noon the sun is

again directly above the mast,
which means that we’re back
at the equator. The ship stops
and remains motionless for a
bit. Then, all of a sudden, the
ship takes off as if someone

has just released a really fast
horse or, to use a more
modern metaphor, as if

someone has put the gas
pedal to the floor. The force of
this movement knocks out the

Mariner, and he loses
consciousness. While in a

stupor, he hears two
mysterious voices talking.

We’re back in supernatural
territory, here…

How long in that same fit I lay,

I have not to declare;

But ere my living life returned,

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,

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.”

The other was a softer voice,

As soft as honey-dew:

Quoth he, “The man hath penance done,

And penance more will do.”


But tell me, tell me! speak again,

Thy soft response renewing —

What makes that ship drive on so fast?

What is the OCEAN doing?


Still as a slave before his lord,

The OCEAN hath no blast;

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

She looketh down on him.


But why drives on that ship so fast,

Without or wave or wind?


The air is cut away before,

And closes from behind.

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

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:

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,

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 —

The Mariner awakes from his trance and finds all the dead sailors still hanging
around on the ship’s deck. He thinks that a slaughterhouse would be a more

appropriate place to see a sight like that.
But the sailors’ curse has been lifted, and the ocean returns to its normal color. The

Mariner tries not to look back on the past horrors he has seen. He’s still pretty
frightened that they will catch up with him again.

He feels a pleasant wind on his body, but the wind seems to be located only around
him and not the ocean outside the ship.

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

Doth close behind him tread.

But soon there breathed a wind on me,

Nor sound nor motion made:

Its path was not upon the sea,

In ripple or in shade.

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,

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?

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!

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.

The strange wind is
localized just around

the boat, but it
means that the
Mariner can sail

again, even as the
boat is still being

pushed from

The Mariner ends up
back at the port he
left from so, so long

ago. He sees the
lighthouse, hill, and
church come back

into view. It’s a
beautiful sight, and

naturally, the Mariner
is overjoyed.

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,

Till rising from the same,

Full many shapes, that shadows were,

In crimson colours came.

Ah, and all the
moon imagery is

suddenly explained.
A simile explains

that the relationship
between the ocean
and the moon is like
that of a slave and
master. The moon
has been running

the show the whole
time. The image of

the moon shining in
the dead sailors’

eyes cements the
moon’s power in

this poem.

A little distance from the prow

Those crimson shadows were:

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,

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:

You thought we were done with crazy lights just because the
Mariner made it back to port? The last supernatural image is
of the white moonlight and the blood red “crimson” angels.

The moonlight shines
across the bay, but

another set of lights soon
appears. He sees shapes

in “crimson” or red
colors. These turn out to
be angels (“seraphs”). All
the dead men who came

back to life to sail the ship
go back to being dead,

and the angels are
standing beside their

bodies. These must be
the angels that took over
the sailors’ bodies. They
wave at the Mariner as if
to say, “Our work is done.
We’re gonna peace-out.“
They don’t speak to the

Mariner, but he feels
delighted anyway.

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;

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:

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

That he makes in the wood.

He’ll shrieve my soul, he’ll wash away

The Albatross’s blood.

The Mariner hears a boat coming toward the ship. A “pilot” or oarsman and his young crewmate
are coming to rescue him. There’s another man on the boat, too: the nice old “hermit.” A hermit
is someone, often very religious, who lives his or her life in solitude. This particular hermit lives in

the forest. The Mariner looks forward to the hermit clearing away his sins by asking him
questions, by “shrieving” his soul, like a confession.

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré

Part the Seventh.

This Hermit good lives in that wood

Which slopes down to the sea.

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:

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,

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


How thin they are and sere!

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,

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!”

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.

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,

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.

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

And fell down in a fit;

The holy Hermit raised his eyes,

And prayed where he did sit.

Who now doth crazy go,

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,

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!”

The Hermit crossed his brow.

“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;

And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,

That agony returns;

And till my ghastly tale is told,

This heart within me burns.

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:

To him my tale I teach.

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,

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.

The Mariner explains to the Wedding Guest that the voyage could
be a metaphor for his own lonely and isolated condition.

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,

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

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;

For the dear God who loveth us

He made and loveth all.

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,

Whose beard with age is hoar,

Is gone: and now the Wedding–Guest

Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

The expression, “He prayeth well, who loveth well” could be the
Mariner’s motto for the entire poem. He recites this expression in

each of these two stanzas, turning it into a refrain.

He went like one that hath been stunned,

And is of sense forlorn:

A sadder and a wiser man,

He rose the morrow morn.

The End

Theme Activities_Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient


Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Illustrated by Gustave Doré



In Christian writings, pride is one of the most basic and important sins, the one has been getting

humans in hot water ever since Adam and Eve. As the proverb says, pride goeth before the fall.

While it’s not clear exactly why the Mariner shoots the albatross in The Rime of the Ancient

Mariner, the answer has something to do with pride. He obviously didn’t intend to bring about

drought and death to the crew, but he thought they could do without this bird whose arrival

happened to coincide with a lot of good luck. The poem takes elements from the stories of

Adam and Eve and the crucifixion of Christ and weaves them into an entirely original take on

man’s pride.

Questions About Pride:

Is pride the sin that causes the downfall of the Mariner? Do you see any evidence of it in his




Do you think the ship’s crew is guilty of the sin of pride? Explain your answer.



How does shooting the albatross compare with the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from

the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden? (See Genesis 2 and 3.) Why

was eating the fruit considered prideful?



Is the albatross meant to be a specifically Christian symbol? Explain your answer.



Chew on This:

The dice game between Death and Life-and-Death is an appropriate part of the Mariner’s

punishment because, when he killed the albatross, he expressed a belief that the world is

guided by luck and chaos. Respond to this idea by connecting it to other literature, or a movie,

or to a modern day event.



The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is Exhibit A for evidence of Coleridge’s wild imagination, which

was helped along by a moderate-to-heavy opium usage. He takes bits and pieces of mythology

and symbolism from Greek and Roman myth and Christian scripture and manufactures a

modern ghost-and-zombie story complete with visits from Death and his grisly accomplice, Life-

and-Death. The power of supernatural forces over the ship and its crew helps to make the

Mariner’s own feebleness clear. The supernatural is often related to meteorological (weather)

and astrological events in this poem.

Questions About The Supernatural:

What can’t the Wedding Guest get away from the Mariner’s clutches? Does the Mariner have

special powers?



How many different supernatural forces does the poem contain? Where do you think Coleridge

got the idea for these forces?



Was a spirit responsible for initially chasing the ship down near the Arctic, or was that just a

regular old storm? Why does the albatross show up?



What is the narrative and thematic purpose of the dice game between Death and Life-in-Death?



Chew on This:

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The moon represents the Virgin Mary, while the force “nine-fathoms” under the sea represents

a Greek god like Poseidon or Hades. Christian figures have control over pagan ones in this

poem, but both coexist.

Although the Mariner considers himself a Christian, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is not a

Christian poem.

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