The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a long poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Table of Contents
An ancient Mariner stopped one of the three guests invited to a wedding. The guest was bewitched by the long grey beard and the shining eyes of the Mariner. But he did not like being interrupted and asked the Mariner why he had been detained.
He said that the doors of the bridegroom’s house were wide open. He being closely related to the bridegroom was expected to reach there very soon. The guests had already arrived there. The feast was set. The noise of merry-making could be heard even from where they were standing.
The Mariner held him with his skinny hand and abruptly started relating his story with “there was a ship’. But this irritated the Wedding-Guest. He called him a grey-beard rogue and sternly demanded to be released. At this, the Mariner at once let his hand go.
But now the Mariner held him spell-bound with the magic of his glittering eyes. The Wedding-Guest just could not move. Now he heard him as willingly as a three-year old child. He had been completely overpowered by the Mariner.
The Wedding-Guest sat down on a stone. Now he had no choice but to listen to the Mariner’s tale. The bright-eyed Mariner, then, started telling his story.
As their ship set sail, the people assembled on the shore, gave them a hearty send-off. Soon the ship got cleared of the harbour. They sailed away merrily leaving behind the church, the hill and the lighthouse. These objects gradually disappeared one after the other.
The sun rose on their left (it means the ship was sailing southward). It seemed to be rising out of the sea. It shone brightly during the day and set in the west in the evening. It seemed to be sinking into the sea on their right.
Everyday, the sun went higher and higher till at noon it stood right over the mast…. But here the Mariner’s story was interrupted because the Wedding-Guest had heard a bassoon being played in the bridegroom’s house and he had started loudly protesting against being detained there.
The sound of the bassoon indicated that the bride had walked into the hall. She was as beautiful as a red rose. She was following a band of musicians who nodded their heads cheerfully as they moved.
The Wedding-Guest cursed himself. He was impatient to leave. But had no choice but to listen to the Mariner. The old Mariner with shining eyes continued his story.
A ferocious storm-blast overtook them. It struck the ship with all its wild force and drove the ship to the south.
As the storm drove the ship in the southern direction, its masts sloped and its prow almost dipped into the sea. The ship appeared like a person running with his head bent before an enemy chasing him closely and shouting at him. Thus the ship kept fleeing southwards.
Now the ship reached the region where there was mist and haze. It also grew intensely cold. Mast-high ice-bergs, shining like the green emerald, came floating near the ship.
They could see the dull light of snow-capped lifts through the drifts of snow. But neither a human figure nor a beast was to be seen anywhere. There was nothing but snow all around.
There was nothing but ice on all sides. Sometimes, the ice split producing various sounds. Sometimes the sound was like that of cracking and growling. At other times it was a loud howling sound. These sounds were like confused noises heard in a swoon.
At last, an Albatross appeared through the fog. In God’s name, they warmly greeted it. They welcomed it as if it were a Christian soul.
The Albatross ate the strange food that the sailors gave it. After eating the food, it would hover around the ship. The ice split with a thundering sound and the helmsman steered the ship through the crack thus produced.
Now a favourable south wind began to blow at their back. The Albatross still followed the ship. Every day it responded to their call either to take food from their hands or to play with them.
The Albatross would come and sit on the mast or the sails at the time of the evening prayer. This continued for nine days. During this period, the moon shone dimly through the white smoke of the fog.
At this moment, the Ancient Mariner looked horror-stricken. The Wedding-Guest prayed that God might have mercy on him and protect him from the devils that tortured him in that manner. He asked the Mariner why he looked thus. The Mariner simply replied, “I shot the Albatross with my cross-bow.”
The sun now rose out of the sea on the right side of the ship. It was hidden in the mist all day. In the evening it sank into the sea on their left.
The favourable south wind still blew, pushing the ship northward. But the sweet bird who used to come to them every day either for food or for playing with them was no longer following them.
All the shipmates of the ancient Mariner condemned his action of killing the Albatross. They said that he had done a devilish thing and it would bring them misfortune. They said that he had killed the bird of good omen who had caused the favourable wind to blow. They declared the Mariner a wretched being for having killed the Albatross.
But now the bright sun rose, neither dim nor red, but luminous and glorious like the haloed head of Jesus Christ. The sailors declared that the Mariner had done the right thing by killing the bird that had brought fog and mist. They said that it was right that such birds as brought fog and mist should be killed.
A favourable gentle wind blew. The white foam flew off from the surface of the ocean. The ship sailed onward calmly and the track made by it was clearly visible. It seemed to them that they were the first people who had ever come to that silent sea.
The wind stopped blowing. The sails too dropped. There was complete silence all around. It was a very sad situation. The silence of the sea was broken only by the sailors’ talk, and they only talked so that they might break the silence of the sea.
The sky looked like heated copper. The sun looked blood red. Even at noon, it stood vertically above the mast and looked as small as the moon.
The ship remained stuck at one place day after day. It did not move because there was neither wind nor tide. It looked just like the picture of a ship on the sea.
Though the ship was surrounded by water on all sides yet the very boards of the ship began to crack and shrink because of the excessive heat. They were in the midst of so much water, but there wasn’t even a drop they could drink.
The sea itself began to rot. Very repulsive sea creatures could be seen crawling with their ugly legs on the sticky and glue-like water of the sea. It was a horrible sight to see. They remarked that Lord Christ should save everyone from such a ghastly situation.
Death-fires shone all about them at night. Their luminous lights appeared to be dancing and wheeling around the ship. The sea water burnt like the oils burnt by a witch emitting multi-coloured lights.
Some of the sailors had a dream that they were being avenged by a spirit that had been following their ship from the land of mist and snow. It had been moving all the while nine fathom deep in the water.
For utter want of water, the sailors’ tongues dried up at the very root. They just could not speak. They felt as if their throats had been choked with soot.
Alas ! the sailors looked at the Mariner reproachfully. They could not speak but their looks revealed the contempt they felt for him. They removed the cross from around his neck and hung the dead Albatross there.
They passed through a very difficult time. Their throats were dry. Their eyes had a glossy appearance. Just then the ancient Mariner looked towards the west and saw some object near the horizon. But he could not distinctly make out what that object was.
At first it appeared to be only a dot. Gradually it became bigger and looked like a patch of mist. It kept on approaching the ship, till, the Mariner felt, it took a more definite shape.
The Mariner had seen it first as a dot, then as a patch of mist, and, finally, as something having a definite shape, though still not very clear about what shape it actually had. And all the time, it came nearer and nearer. It also kept on changing its course as if it were trying to avoid some spirit of the water that was following it.
On account of intense heat and thirst, their throats were dry and their lips were parched. They could neither laugh nor cry. They had been rendered speechless by utter drought. The Ancient Mariner slaked his throat by biting his arm and sucking his own blood. Then he cried out that he could see a ship approaching them.
The shipmates’ throats were also parched and their lips were dried with thirst. They heard his shout with surprise. Then they thanked God and grinned to express their joy. They drew in their breath as if they were already drinking water.
The Ancient Mariner pointed out to his companions that the ship had become steady. It was gradually approaching them and would bring them help. It was strange that though there was neither tide nor wind yet the ship was sailing steadily on.
The day was almost over. The horizon in the west was lit up with the crimson rays of the sun. The broad bright sun appeared to be resting on the western horizon. Just then the mysterious thing appeared and stood between the sun and their ship.
And immediately the sun appeared to be streaked with. The broad and crimson red sun appeared to be peeping through the iron bars of a prison window. The mariners prayed to Virgin Mary to have mercy on them.
The skeleton ship was now approaching them fast. The Ancient Mariner’s heart began to beat violently to see it approaching them. He was greatly surprised to see that its sails looked like cobwebs floating in the air and shining in the light of the sun.
The Ancient Mariner looked with horror at the ribs of the ship, for they seemed to be like the bars of a prison and the sun looked like a prisoner peeping from behind these iron bars. He saw just one woman on the ship and wondered if she was the only crew. Then he noticed another figure. The first figure looked like the spirit of death. He wondered if the second figure was her mate.
The woman’s lips were red; her hair was golden yellow; and she had very bold, audacious looks. Her skin was as white as that of a person struck with leprosy. That horrible woman was LifeinDeath. She was a nightmare personified and was capable of curdling any man’s blood.
At last the skeleton ship came by the side of their own ship. Then the Ancient Mariner saw that the two figures were playing at dice. LifeinDeath exclaimed that the game was over and that she had won. She whistled thrice out of joy.
The sun sank down below the horizon. The stars appeared in the sky almost abruptly. It was immediately dark. The spectreship disappeared. The whisperlike sound with which it withdrew could be heard in the distance.
They listened to this sound and looked sideways. The Ancient Mariner was overwhelmed with fear. He felt as if Fear were draining away his life blood just as a man might drain away the drink in a cup. The stars were dim and the night was very dark. In the light of the lamp, the face of the helmsman looked pale. Dew drops fell from the sails. At last, they saw the crescent moon rising above the horizon. It had one bright star within its lower end.
In the light of the moon, closely followed by a star, the Ancient Mariner saw his fellow sailors drop down dead one by one. They died so quickly that they could not utter a groan or heave a sigh. However, just as they died, they cast at him a painful glance and cursed him with their eyes.
Two hundred living men dropped down dead one by one with a dull heavy sound, and the Mariner could hear neither a sigh nor a groan.
Their souls fled from their bodies to go to the – Ancient Mariner was not very sure where – heaven or hell. As these souls passed by him, they made a hissing sound like the one he had made when he had shot the Albatross with his crossbow.
The Wedding Guests had all along been listening to the Mariner’s story. He felt that it was not the Mariner but his ghost that was speaking to him. This feeling filled him with horror. He said that he was afraid of him and his skinny hand. He was also afraid of his tall and thin figure, and his wrinkled, dark skin that looked like the rippled, sunburnt sand on the seashore.
He said that he was also afraid of the glittering eye and the skinny hand of the Mariner. But the Mariner assured him that he had not dropped down dead with his companions, therefore, he was not a ghost.
The Mariner then resumed his story. He said that the rest of the crew being dead, he was the only living person left on board in the vast ocean. He was overcome by a feeling of utter desolation. His soul was in great agony but no saint took pity on him.
It was painful for the Ancient Mariner to see so many beautiful human beings lying dead all around him. But in the sea, thousands of ugly creatures lived on, and like these ugly creatures, he too continued to live.
He looked on the rotting sea, and unable to stand the distasteful sight, drew his eyes away. Then he looked at the deck. But the deck, littered with dead bodies, presented an equally repelling sight
Now the Ancient Mariner looked towards the sky and tried to pray to God. But before he could pray, some wicked whisper influenced his heart and made it as dry as dust.
He closed his eyes and kept them closed till the eyeballs beat against his eyes like pulses. It seemed that the sky and the sea lay like a heavy load on his eyes. Still he was afraid to open his eyes because of the dead men lying at his feet.
The dead bodies of the crew perspired. But they did not either rot or give out any foul smell. Their eyes were still open. He felt as if the reproachful look with which they had died was still there.
An orphan’s curse can drag an angel from heaven or hell. But the curse in the eyes of a dead man is more horrible than an orphan’s curse ever could be. For seven days and seven nights he faced the cursing eyes of his companions, yet he could not die.
The moon continued moving in the sky. Followed by one or two stars, it kept on rising softly.
The moonlight was cool while the sea was very, very hot. Thus, the cool moonlight seemed to be mocking at the sultry sea. The silverwhite moonlight was spread on the surface of the ocean like the hoarfrost of spring. But where the shadow of the ship fell, the water seemed to be under some magic spell, and it burnt with an awful red colour.
He looked beyond the shadow of the ship and saw some watersnakes. As the watersnakes swam, their tracks were lit up by the moonlight. These tracks looked brilliantly white. And when they raised their heads, the water falling off their heads looked like flakes of light.
The Ancient Mariner looked within the shadow of the ship and saw the beautiful skin of the snakes. They were of all coloursblue, shining green and black like velvet. They made zigzag movements and the tracks they left behind glowed brightly with golden light.
He felt that these colourful watersnakes whose beauty was beyond description were happy living things. The appreciation of their beauty roused in him sudden tender feelings for them and unconsciously he blessed them. He had been able to bless them perhaps because his guardian angel had taken pity on him.
As soon as he praised their beauty, he was able to pray. And immediately, the Albatross tell from his neck and fell into the sea like some heavy lead.
Sleep is a great blessing for it soothes and refreshes man. It is loved all over the earth. The Mariner praised Virgin Mary for having sent him sleep. It entered his soul and he fell asleep.
He dreamt that the buckets that had remained empty so long were filled with drew. And when he woke up, he found that it had actually been raining.
His lips were moistened, his throat was cold and his clothes were wet with rain. Surely, he had drunk water in his dreams, and his body absorbed water even now.
As he moved, he felt very light. He felt so light, in fact, that he thought he had died in his sleep and was now an emancipated soul living in heaven.
Soon after that he, heard the wind roaring at a distance. The wind did not come near, but its sound shook the thin and dry sails of the ship.
The air in the upper regions showed sudden signs of life. Hundreds of fireflags, shining and moving to and fro could also be seen. In between them the pale stars seemed to be dancing.
The approaching wind began to roar more loudly. Under its effect, the sails sighed like sedge. Then it rained heavily from a dense dark cloud, at the end of which shone the moon.
The thick dark cloud was rent into two parts, but the moon still stood at its side. Lightning flashed like water falling from a high cliff. As the flash of lightning was continuous, it looked like a wide deep river.
The howling wind did not reach the ship. It did not press the ship. Still the ship moved on. The moon shone and lightning flashed. The dead men lying on the deck groaned.
The dead men groaned, and then they moved and stood up. They did not speak. They did not move their eyes (their eyes were still fixed on the Ancient Mariner). It would have been very strange even in a dream to see those dead men rising back to life.
Still there was no wind blowing. But the helmsman steered the ship and it moved on. The Mariners began to work the ropes as they used to do. They moved their hands and feet, but their movement was like that of lifeless tools. Now the ship had certainly a ghostly crew.
The body of the Mariner’s nephew stood by his side, knee to knee. They were working at the same rope. Yet he did not speak even a single word to the Mariner. He just kept working silently.
At this stage, the WeddingGuest again began to show signs of fear. But the Mariner told him that the souls that were now working on the ship were not those which had left their bodies after having undergone much agony. A group of blessed spirits had entered the dead bodies.
That they were a troop of blessed spirits was proved by the fact that when the day dawned, they stopped working and gathered near the mast. Sweet sounds issued out of their mouths and passed through their bodies.
Each sound flew around and then darted towards the sun. Slowly these sounds returned. They could be heard sometimes in a group and at other times separately.
As he heard the sounds made by the blessed spirits, sometimes he felt that he was hearing the song of the skylark: At other times, he felt that the atmosphere was full of the twittering and singing of many birds.
These sounds were really of varying notes. At one time they sounded like an orchestra. At another moment, they sounded like a single flute. Sometimes they sounded like the song of an angel that would betwitch to silence even the heavens.
The music stopped but the sails of the ship continued making a pleasant sound till noon. It was as fascinating as the sound produced in the month of June by a stream hidden under the leaves in a foresta stream that keeps singing a quiet tune to the sleeping woods all night.
Though no breeze was blowing, the ship continued to sail on till noon. The ship moved slowly and smoothly as if something was moving it from below.
The ship was being moved by the spirit that had been following it from the land of mist and snow. It was moving nine fathom deep in the sea. At noon, the sails stopped making that pleasant sound and the ship came to a standstill.
The sun shone exactly over the mast and it seemed as if it was the sun that had fixed the ship to the sea. But in a minute the ship began to move again. Its movement was no longer smooth. It moved backward and forward half its length in a very uncomfortable movement.
Suddenly the ship made a very quick movement, like that of a horse impatiently striking the ground with hoofs. This sudden movement of the ship made the Ancient Mariner feel giddy and he fell in a swoon.
He did not know how long he kept lying in that state of unconsciousness. But before he regained his consciousness, he felt that he could distinctly hear in his soul a dialogue between two voices.
One of the voices (the Spirit of Justice) asked the other (the Spirit of Mercy) to tell him in the name of Lord Christ if this was the man who had shot dead the innocent Albatross.
The spirit that lives all alone in the land of mist and snow loved this bird. The bird loved the man but the man cruelly shot it dead with his crossbow.
The other was a soft voice, as soft as honeydew. He said that the Ancient Mariner had already done a great deal of penance and would be doing still more penance.
The first voice asked the other to tell him how the ship was moving so fast and what the ocean was doing.
The second voice replied that the ocean was as quiet as a slave in the presence of his master. It seemed that the ocean was looking at the moon to be directed how it should behave. (The moon controls the movement of the ocean). The moon too appeared to be looking at the sea graciously.
The first voice repeated the question how the ship was moving so fast when there was neither a wind in the sky nor a wave in the sea.
The second voice replied that the movement of the ship was being caused by the air in front being split into two, thus producing a vacuum, and rushing in violently from behind to exert pressure on the ship. Then this spirit told the other that they must fly higher and higher, or they would be getting late. It also said that as the Mariner regained consciousness, the ship would move more and more slowly.
The Mariner now woke up to find that the ship was sailing as smoothly as in a gentle weather. It was a peaceful night and the moon was shining brightly. The dead men were standing together.
The bodies fit to be thrown into some underground cell were still standing on the deck. Their stony eyes, glittering in the moonlight, were fixed on the Mariner.
The expression of agony and the curse with which they had died had never left them. The Mariner felt very helpless. He could neither take his eyes away from them nor raise them to heaven and pray.
Now the spell was broken. Once again he saw the green sea. He looked far into the sea but could not see anything of what he had seen earlier.
He was like a person who walks alone on a road in fear and dreadlike one who has once turned round but is afraid to do so again, for he is afraid that a frightful fiend is closely following him.
Soon he felt that a gentle wind was blowing on him. It was a very strange kind of wind, for it neither created any sound nor made anything move. It did not seem to be blowing on the sea, for it did not create any ripples, nor did it cause any change of shades in the water.
It fanned his cheeks and ruffled his hair like a spring gale blowing in a meadow. He feared it lest it should bring some disaster with it, yet it had a pleasing effect on him.
The ship moved at a very high speed but it moved gently and smoothly. The breeze blew gently, and it blew on the Mariner alone.
Now the Ancient Mariner saw a very thrilling sight. He saw the light house top, the hill and the church. He could not believe the eyes when he saw these objects. He wondered if he had really come back to his own country.
The ship was driven by the current over the harbour bar. He burst into sobful prayer. He prayed that either he should be fully conscious or he should go into everlasting sleep.
It was a calm weather and the water of the harbour was crystal clear. The reflection of the moon could be clearly seen in the water of the bay. The coastland appeared to be bathed in the moonlight.
The hill as well as the church standing on it shone brightly in the moonlight. The weathercock was motionless and seemed to be steeped in the moonlight.
The bay was bright and silent. Presently, the Ancient Mariner saw many crimsoncoloured, shadowy shapes rising above it.
Those crimson shadows were at some distance from the prow of the ship. Then he turned his eyes towards the deck and saw an astonishing sight there.
He saw that the dead bodies were no longer standing together. Rather they were lying flat on the deck. He was also surprised to see that an angel, bathed in light, stood near every dead body.
It was a heavenly sight to see each one of these angels waving his hand. They were probably trying to attract the attention of the people on the shore. Each angel waved his hand, but none of them uttered a word. They did not produce any sound, but their very silence sank into the Mariner’s soul like music.
Soon he heard the strokes of the oars and the cheering voice of the Pilot. At this he turned his head in that direction and saw a boat approaching them.
He saw the Pilot and the Pilot’s boy coming fast towards him. This was a source of great joy, so great indeed that it could not be undone even by the presence of the dead men on the deck.
Then the Mariner saw the holy Hermit and heard his voice also. The Hermit wrote divine hymns and sang them aloud in the woods. The Mariner hoped that he would listen to his confession and absolve him of the sin of killing the Albatross.
The Hermit lived in the wood that sloped towards the sea. He sang hymns sweetly and loudly. He was fond of talking with the sailors who came from distant countries.
The Hermit knelt in prayer three times a day, in the morning, at noon and in the evening. An oakstump covered with moss served as his cushion.
The skiff came near. The Mariner could hear them talking. They were expressing their surprise that the strange lights that had beckoned them had disappeared.
The Hermit also said that it was really strange that those lights had disappeared. He drew their attention to another strange fact also the crew had not responded to any of their shouts. He noticed that the planks of the ship looked shrunk. The sails were thin and sere. He said that he had not seen anything else like those sails. The only things that could be compared to them were dried leaves which made the brook in the wood flow slowly, at the time When the ivytod is heavily burdened with snow and the young one of the owl hoots to the wolf eating his young ones in the absence of the shewolf.
The Pilot swore that the ship had really a devilish look. He was afraid to go ahead. But the Hermit cheered him up and asked him to row on.
The boat came close to the ship. But the Mariner neither uttered a word nor made any movement. The moment the boat came within reach of the ship, a loud sound was heard.
A thunderlike sound was produced under the water, Gradually it became louder and more dreadful. Eventually it reached the ship. The water in the bay was divided into two parts and the ship sank into it like a lump of lead.
The Mariner was stupefied by the loud and horrible sound that struck the sky and the sea. When he recovered, he found himself floating on the surface of the water as if he had been drowned seven days before, and after a long time his body had risen to the surface. But quick as a dream, he found himself in the Pilot’s boat.
The boat went round and round at the place where the ship had sunk. Soon everything was quiet except that the sound was being reechoed by the hills.
The Mariner moved the lips, which frightened the Pilot. He uttered a loud cry and fell unconscious. The Hermit raised his eyes to heaven and prayed where he was sitting.
The Mariner took up the oars and began to row the boat. This frightened the Pilotboy out of his wits. He laughed loud and long. His eyes began to roll. He cried that he could clearly see that the Devil knew how to row a boat.
Now the Ancient Mariner had reached his own country. He heaved a sigh of relief to feel that he stood on the firm land and was no more on the surface of the sea. The Hermit too stepped on the land. He appeared to be having much difficulty in standing on his feet.
The Mariner requested the Hermit to hear him make his confession and to shrieve him. The Hermit made the sign of the cross on his forehead and asked the Mariner to tell him what type of man he was.
Immediately the body of the Mariner was convulsed with a woeful agony. It forced him to narrate the story of his crime. Once he had finished it, he was left at peace.
The Mariner told the WeddingGuest that after that his agony returned to him at irregular intervals. His heart burnt within his body and he knew no peace till he had related his horrible story to someone.
He moved from land to land as silently as the night. He had gained mysterious power of speech. The moment he looked at the face of a man, he could recognise whether he was a suitable man to tell his story. Thus, after having selected a suitable listener, he related to him his story.
A loud sound of music coming from the wedding hall was heard soon after. All the weddingguests were there. The bride and the bridemaids were singing in the garden. One could also hear the sound of the bell calling people to evening prayer.
The Mariner told the WeddingGuest that he had been all alone on the vast sea. It was so lonely there that he felt that even God had abandoned that place.
He added that he liked going to the church in good company much more than attending a weddingfeast.
He enjoyed going with him to the church and praying there together. It was indeed a moment of great joy to him when old men, children, loving friends, youthful men and women prayed to God, our great Father.
Then the Ancient Mariner bade the WeddingGuest farewell. But before leaving, he told him that the best way to pray to God is to love everything God has created. One should love all men, birds and beasts.
The best prayer is to love all creatures. One should love all creatures, big and small, without discrimination, for dear God who created all loves all.
The Ancient Mariner with bright eyes and grey beard went away. After that the WeddingGuest did not go to the bridegroom’s house. He went his own way.
He walked away Tike one dazed and deprived of his senses. When he got Up the next morning, he was a sadder and wiser man.