The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Study Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Part 2 | Summary

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Summary

At first the crew is angry that he killed the bird, but then they say the Albatross brought with it fog and mist that obscured their visibility, so it is good that the Mariner shot the bird. They continue to sail south with the wind and come to a sea that none of them have ever seen. They are calmed.

They spend days beneath the hot sun with no wind to power their sails. They run out of water on the ship, though there is plenty of (undrinkable) water around them. The Mariner details the strange sea they sail on, full of horrible creatures.

Some of the crew begin to dream that the slain Albatross has followed them from the Arctic. Its spirit haunts the ship. The sailors are all so parched they can't speak, and eventually they hang the carcass of the Albatross around the Mariner's neck.

Analysis

The superstitions surrounding the Albatross come into play. At first the crew is upset with the Mariner, thinking he killed the bird that brought the breezes that filled the sails. But when the winds continue and the fog burns away, they change their minds, choosing to believe the bird was a bad omen; they are pleased with the killing. The crew is now complicit with the Mariner and they are all guilty of the same sin.

Once the ship is calmed, the curse of the Albatross (according to the maritime superstition) takes hold. Nature (or the spirit of the South Pole that loved the Albatross) punishes the men with the slow death of dehydration, made worse by the fact that they are surrounded by undrinkable water. "Water, water, every where / Nor any drop to drink" is one of the most famous lines of the poem, and they imply a tortuous death.

The strange, fantastic creatures that crawl atop the waves are another glimpse of the supernatural. These creatures are part of the natural world that the Mariner finds repugnant, indicated by his choice of words. The Mariner does not appreciate the sublime revealing itself to him. The imagery in Part 2 is vivid and unearthly, with lines like "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." The Romantic interest in dreams and visions also appears in Part 2. In dreams some of the crew begin to realize that the spirit from the South Pole has been following them.

The Christlike imagery continues when the crewmen decide to mark the Mariner for his crime. He's not crucified, but he is forced to wear the sign of his sin nevertheless. "Instead of the cross, the Albatross / About my neck was hung," he says. The Mariner references Jesus and the Crucifixion with this line, drawing a parallel for penance, with the bird serving as an atonement of his sin much as Christ did for humanity. The Albatross around his neck is the Mariner's own cross to bear.

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