11 Feb

Rime of the Ancient Mariner                                                                             

  • A Poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


  • Written in 1797-1798 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads.


Three guys are on the way to a wedding celebration when an old sailor (the Mariner) stops one of them at the door. Using his hypnotic eyes to hold the attention of the Wedding Guest, he starts telling a story about a disastrous journey he took. The Wedding Guest really wants to go party, but he can’t pry himself away from this grizzled old mariner. The Mariner begins his story. They left port, and the ship sailed down near Antarctica to get away from a bad storm, but then they get caught in a dangerous, foggy ice field. An albatross shows up to steer them through the fog and provide good winds, but then the Mariner decides to shoot it.

Pretty soon the sailors lose their wind, and it gets really hot. They run out of water, and everyone blames the Mariner. The ship seems to be haunted by a bad spirit, and weird stuff starts appearing, like slimy creatures that walk on the ocean. The Mariner’s crewmates decide to hang the dead albatross around his neck to remind him of his error.

Everyone is dying of thirst. The Mariner sees another ship’s sail at a distance. He wants to yell out, but his mouth is too dry, so he sucks some of his own blood to moisten his lips. He’s like, “A ship! We’re saved.” Sadly, the ship is a ghost ship piloted by two spirits, Death and Life-in-Death. Everyone on the Mariner’s ship dies.

The wedding guest realizes, “Ah! You’re a ghost!” But the Mariner says, “Well, actually, I was the only one who didn’t die.” He continues his story: he’s on a boat with a lot of dead bodies, surrounded by an ocean full of slimy things. Worse, these slimy things are nasty water snakes. But the Mariner escapes his curse by unconsciously blessing the hideous snakes, and the albatross drops off his neck into the ocean.

The Mariner falls into a sweet sleep, and it finally rains when he wakes up. A storm strikes up in the distance, and all the dead sailors rise like zombies to pilot the ship. The sailors don’t actually come back to life. Instead, angels fill their bodies, and another supernatural spirit under the ocean seems to push the boat. The Mariner faints and hears two voices talking about how he killed the albatross and still has more penance to do. These two mysterious voices explain how the ship is moving.

After a speedy journey, the ship ends up back in port again. The Mariner sees angels standing next to the bodies of all his crewmates. Then a rescue boat shows up to take him back to shore. The Mariner is happy that a guy called “the hermit” is on the rescue boat. The hermit is in a good mood. All of a sudden there’s a loud noise, and the Mariner’s ship sinks. The hermit’s boat picks up the Mariner.

When they get on shore, the Mariner is desperate to tell his story to the hermit. He feels a terrible pain until the story had been told.

In fact, the Mariner says that he still has the same painful need to tell his story, which is why he stopped the Wedding Guest on this occasion. Wrapping up, the Mariner tells the Wedding Guest that he needs to learn how to say his prayers and love other people and things. Then the Mariner leaves, and the Wedding Guest no longer wants to enter the wedding. He goes home and wakes up the next day, as the famous last lines go, “a sadder and a wiser man.”

The mariner up on the mast in a storm.

The mariner up on the mast in a storm.

Engraving by Gustave Doré for an 1876 edition of the poem.

Engraving by Gustave Doré for an 1876 edition of the poem.

Themes for Rime of the Ancient Mariner 

  • Pride – In Christian writings, pride is one of the most basic and important sins. As the proverb says, pride goes before the fall. While it’s not clear exactly why the Mariner shoots the albatross in 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.
  • Suffering – Suffering is sometimes the only way to change someone’s habits for good, and it takes a whole lot of this painful medicine 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.
  • Isolation – The Mariner travels the country looking for former lost souls like himself. His best friend in the poem is a hermit, if that tells you anything. After the experience he has been through, he can’t just return to normal society. The idea of going to a wedding is very distasteful to him, for example. The low point of the story he tells is when he is left the only man standing on the ship and must suffer the cursing stares of all the dead men.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Frankenstein

  • Rime of the Ancient Mariner is quoted many time in Frankenstein. 
  • In a letter in Frankenstein there is a quote used form Time of the Ancient Mariner, I am going to unexplored regions, to “the land of mist and snow;” but i shall kill no albatross, therefore do not be alarmed for my safety, or if i should come back to you as worn and woeful as the “Ancient Mariner?” from Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Here Walton is making a blatant reference to “The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner.” He is referring to the part of the story in which the Mariner shoots down the Albatross, which causes his downfall and that of his crew. This correlates to Frankenstein in a sense that the creature had the ultimate control over the human population. It was in his power to kill whomever he chooses to. Just like the mariner was given a second chance to redeem himself and rid his sins for killing the albatross, Frankenstein was given another chance to give the creature what he ultimately wanted- another one of his kind. Right after Victor ran away in terror after he saw his creation for the first time, he wanders the streets alone with his conscience.
  • Like one who, on a lonely 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.” At this point Rime of the Ancient Mariner is referenced because similarly, in this work the person wanders the streets with a demon or fiend following him. In a romantic sense, the mariner and Victor both want knowledge. They both are trying to get their thoughts straight across. However, unlike the mariner, Victor’s new knowledge brings a curse along with it. Victor’s life is similar to “Nightmare-Life-In-Death” because he really has no one he loves left. On top of that, he is the reason for the deaths of all his loved ones. Frankenstein wants to die at this point, but he wants to finish what he started. Additionally, they are both living with the knowledge no one else possesses and the hatred towards their respective creatures. Frankenstein is constantly battling the creature and torturing himself throughout the novel.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner’s comparisons to Frankenstein

  •  In both the poem and the book, the setting is a tragic mysterious story inside of a joyful frame story. In Rime of the Ancient Mariner the frame story of a wedding against a tail of undead pirates emphasize the difference between a horrid tragedy and a cheerful event. In Frankenstein, there is the same situation with a frame story of a rescue on a ship against a story of guilt and mystery.
  • Both Frankenstein and the Mariner are two hurt souls submerged by the guilt of the deaths they believe they caused. For Frankenstein he feels responsible for the death of his brother and his brother’s accused murderer, Justine. He thinks that it’s his fault because he believes his monster killed them both. In Rime of the Ancient Mariner the mariner feels responsible for killing the albatross. This feeling of guilt demonstrates the true “colors” of the characters, which later relates to the theme.
  • The Mariner in Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Walton in Frankenstein take trips to the polar region.
  • Both Frankenstein and Rime of the Ancient Mariner speak about knowledge. In Frankenstein, Victor is addicted to knowledge in his younger years leading to the creation of Frankenstein. The mariner is cursed by knowledge because he must enlighten people on his desolate tale such as the wedding guest. They both went past the bounds that humans should go causing Victor to create Frankenstein and the Mariner to kill the albatross.
  • Both the main characters in Frankenstein and Rime of the Ancient Mariner have desolation. Victor is constantly tormented by his guilt and becomes ill and disconnected from the world. This is extremely apparent when he is creating the monster; he is paranoid and unsociable. The Mariner is obviously very alone because eventually all his ship mates drop dead and he is left alive to be tormented.
  • There is a nature aspect in both. In Frankenstein, Shelley goes into great detail when Henry and Victor are traveling the European countryside. Rime of the Ancient Mariner has a predilection towards nature. The ocean, water snakes, the albatross, leads to the main idea which is the appreciation of nature.


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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Frankenstein



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