The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a long poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The Ancient Mariner, with ‘long grey beard and glittering eye’ and a skinny hand, stopped one of the three gallants going to attend a wedding. When the Wedding-Guest protested at being detained, the Mariner dropped his hand and held him only with his glittering eye. So powerful was his spell that the Wedding-Guest was forced to listen to his story like “a three years’ child’. The Ancient Mariner now told him how he undertook a southward voyage with two hundred sailors. The ship crossed the equator. Then a powerful storm drove it to the polar regions of snow and ice. Suddenly, out of the frozen silence around them, there appeared an Albatross, a large sea-bird. The sailors hailed it as a Christian soul and made a pet of it. It daily came to them for food and for play. The ice split and favourable south wind drove them northwards. The sailors thought of the Albatross as a bird of good omen. Their fellowship continued for nine days. Then the Ancient Mariner killed the Albatross with his cross-bow.
They doubled Cape Horn. A good south wind still blew behind, but no sweet bird followed the sailors’ hollo. The sailors condemned the Ancient Mariner for having killed the bird of good luck. But when the fog cleared off and a glorious sun shone in the sky, they justified his action, thus making themselves accomplices in the crime. Now they entered the Pacific Ocean. The breeze dropped down suddenly. Their guilt began to be reflected in the external nature with a ‘bloody sun’ burning in a “hot and copper sky. The ship came to a standstill. Though surrounded by water on all sides, the boards of the ship shrank and the sailors suffered from extreme heat and thirst. The ocean appeared to rot. Slimy things crawled on the slimy sea. Death-fires danced around them at night. The sailors were filled with loathing and horror and some of them dreamed that the Polar spirit was tormenting them in order to avenge the shooting of the innocent Albatross. In order to fix the sole responsibility of the sin on the Ancient Mariner, the sailors took off the cross from around his neck and hung the dead Albatross there.
Tormented by heat and thirst, the sailors spent some really weary time. Ultimately there appeared on the horizon a ship. The Ancient Mariner bit his arm, sucked his blood to moisten his parched lips and announced its approach to the sailors! They were revived a bit by the hope of rescue and grinned with joy. But it turned out to be a spectre ship at dice for the souls of the Mariner and the sailors. Life-in-Death won the Mariner. His companions fell to the lot of Death. So they dropped down dead one by one. As they fell, they cursed him with their eyes and their souls passed by him making a sound like the whizz of his cross-bow.
The Ancient Mariner had to undergo the experience of Life-in-Death for seven days and seven nights. He was left alone on a wide sea with beautiful men’ lying dead on the deck, while slimy things’ lived on in the sea. The curse with which the sailors had died had never left their eyes and it was torturing to look at them. He was also full of self-loathing. He tried to pray but “a wicked whisper’ made his heart as dry as dust. Thus isolated from God as well as God’s creation, he suffered a kind of spiritual death. However, at the height of his agony, he saw water-snakes coiling and swimming freely in the sea, in tracks of shining white, their rich attire gleaming in the benevolent light of the moon, and his heart was filled with love and appreciation for them. Those slimy things now appeared to him beautiful and joyous and he blessed them unaware. But no sooner did he bless them than he could pray and the dead Albatross fell from his neck and sank into the sea.
Now the Mariner was able to sleep. He dreamt about rain, and when he awoke, it was actually raining. He felt fresh and light. There was a storm in the sky, and though it never reached the ship, its very sound made the ship move on. Celestial spirits now entered the bodies of the sailors and worked the ship. The air was filled with heavenly music. There was no breeze in the sky, but moved from beneath by the Polar spirit, the ship kept on moving. For a while, it came to a standstill, but again bounced forward, throwing the Mariner into a swoon. In his trance, he heard two voices and learnt that the Polar spirit who loved the Albatross still sought vengeance for its death. He heard one of the voices telling the other that he had already done penance for his sin and would be doing more penance.
The Mariner’s trance continued for a while. He learnt from the two voices that the ship was being driven by supernatural force; it was sailing fast but its speed would slow down when the Mariner regained consciousness. When the trance was over, he found the dead men standing together on the deck with the curse still in their eyes. However, this spell was soon snapped. A gentle breeze blew on them. The moon shone brightly. In this bright and calm moonlight, he beheld his own country, the very port from which he had set sail. Then the angelic spirits left the dead bodies of the crew and appeared in their own forms of light. The Pilot on the beach saw the lights and he rowed out with the Pilot-boy and a holy Hermit to bring the ship in to harbour. The Mariner decided to request the Hermit to shrieve his soul.
When the Pilot, the Pilot-boy and the Hermit came close to the ship, in their skiff-boat, they were surprised to see that the angelic spirits had disappeared. They were also frightened by the fiendish look of the ship, its warped planks and thin and sere sails. As the boat came still closer, there was a loud noise and the ship sank into the sea like a lump of lead. The Mariner was, however, saved in the Pilot’s boat. They all took him to be a ghost. So, when he opened his lips to say something, the Pilot fell into a fit, the Pilot-boy Went crazy with fear and even the Hermit knelt to pray. Once the Mariner was back on the firm land, he prayed to the Hermit to shrieve him. He was all of a sudden wrenched with agony and was constrained to tell his story. After that, at uncertain hours, his agony returned, and he could feel relieved only after he had repeated his story. He moved from land to land, and wherever he recognised the light listener, he accosted him to listen to him. This was the penance he was to undergo all his life, Presently, the vesper-bells were heard and the Mariner announced to the Wedding-Guest the moral of his story- We must have love and reverence for all things, both great and small, made and loved by God. The merry din of the wedding feast had ceased, and the Wedding-Guest returned home a sadder and wiser man.