Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner

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The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 29-page guide for “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 7 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Power of the Imagination and The Importance of the Individual in Romantic-Era Poetry.

Plot Summary

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” first published in 1798, is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and is the first poem in Lyrical Ballads, a collaborative effort of Coleridge and  fellow poet William Wordsworth. Lyrical Ballads is widely considered to be the first collection of Romantic English poetry, and “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a classic example of English Romanticism, with its vivid imagery and inclusion of the supernatural.

The poem is a tale of crime, punishment, and redemption: a Mariner shoots an Albatross (a bird of good fortune) and is gravely punished by an extraneous force for this act. However, by learning to love, the Mariner is partially absolved. As his punishment continues, and he is unable to die, he must travel the globe, telling his story to strangers and teaching to them the lessons he has learned.

The poem opens as the Ancient Mariner, unnaturally old and with a “glittering eye,” stops a man in the street (1). The man is with two companions; the group is on its way to a wedding party. The Wedding Guest tries to get away from the Ancient Mariner, and continue on his way with his friends, but he finds himself drawn to the old man’s eyes. The Mariner’s story begins when he is much younger and is on a ship with 200 other sailors. The weather is good and the ship sails well until a storm hits as they reach the equator. The ship is driven by the wind to the South Pole and is stuck there in the ice, until an albatross appears out of the mist. The sailors feed and play with the albatross (a bird of good fortune) and the ice breaks and the ship is freed. However, for some inexplicable reason, the Mariner kills the bird.

The sailors blame the Mariner as the wind stops and the ship is stuck once more. The sun burns too hot, there is no water, and slimy sea creatures can be seen sliding around on the top of the sea. The sailors become so thirsty that they are unable to speak. They place the corpse of the albatross around the Mariner’s neck, to remind him of the terrible thing he has done. A long time passes. The Mariner spots another ship approaching. Still unable to speak, he bites his arm and sucks out some blood so that he can remark to the sailors. However, the Mariner soon notices that the ship is strange. Not only is it moving when there is no wind, but, as it passes in front of the sun, it looks to be a skeleton ship. As the ship pulls even closer, the Mariner can see that it is manned by only two entities, Death and Life-in-Death. They are playing a game of dice to see who can win the soul of the Mariner. Life-in-Death wins. Death is left with the souls of the 200 sailors. The sky turns black and the sailors drop dead on the deck; with their open, staring eyes, they curse the Mariner for what he has done. The Mariner is left alone, unable to pray, and drifting on the ocean with 200 corpses that refuse to rot.

One evening, the Mariner notices some beautiful water snakes dancing on the sea. Watching them move, he is filled with immense happiness and he blesses them without meaning to. Able to pray again, the dead albatross falls from the Mariner’s neck and into the sea. The curse is broken, and the Mariner is able to fall asleep. He dreams of water and when he wakes it’s raining. The Mariner drinks and drinks. The dead sailors come back to life, reanimated by angels. Still unable to speak, the sailors begin to sail the ship. When they reach the equator, the ship suddenly lurches, and the Mariner falls and loses consciousness.

As he lies there, dazed, he hears two voices discussing his sin and punishment. They say that the albatross was loved by a spirit and that the Mariner will continue to serve. When the Mariner wakes, up the voices have gone, but he sees the dead sailors, together, cursing him with their eyes. Suddenly, they disappear, too. Despite this, the Mariner knows that he will always be haunted by them.

The wind becomes stronger and it isn’t long before the Mariner sees his homeland in the distance. He also sees that there is a small rowboat approaching his ship. In it is a Pilot, his boy, and a Hermit. As the rowboat reaches the ship, a whirlpool starts to pull the ship down. The Pilot and the Hermit rescue the Mariner from the water and initially believe him dead. Frightened when the Mariner suddenly comes to, the Hermit asks him what kind of man he is. The Mariner is suddenly struck by an intense physical pain. After telling the Hermit what has happened to him, the pain disappears. The Mariner now knows of the continued punishment he must face for killing the albatross.

The Mariner explains to the Wedding Guest how the Mariner must travel the world, telling his story, and that he instinctively knows whom he must tell it to. Once it is told, he is relieved of his pain, until the next time he must tell the story. His final lesson to the Wedding Guest is that joining others in prayer is better than any party, and that the best way to connect with God is to love his creatures. The Mariner vanishes. Rather than joining his friends at the party, the Wedding Guest returns home. When he wakes up the following morning, he is a “sadder and…wiser” man for having heard the Mariner’s tale (28).

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