The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Study Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Part 4 | Summary



The Wedding Guest is disturbed by the Mariner's tale, but the Mariner continues. He is alone on the sea with the dead bodies of his crew and the monsters in the water. He tries to pray, but finds himself unable to do so. The bodies do not rot, and they all stare at the Mariner with a curse in their eyes.

For seven days and nights the Mariner is aboard the ship with his dead crew, who are unable to die. As he watches the sea serpents in the ocean, the Mariner admires their beauty and blesses them silently. At this moment the Albatross falls from his neck and sinks into the water.


There is a brief interlude where the Wedding Guest speaks, upset that the Mariner might too have died and come back as a ghost or revenant. The Mariner assures him that he is still alive. Coleridge inserts a brief respite in the natural world of the frame story before delving back into the supernatural elements of the tale. This break also serves to remind us that the Mariner's penance is still ongoing.

The Mariner's isolation, trapped on a ship surrounded by the dead bodies of his crew, is part of his punishment. He can't even pray, the comfort of confession denied him. It's telling that the Mariner looks out over the sea and sees "a thousand thousand slimy things / Lived on; and so did I." He is angry that these creatures are alive and his crew is not, but he also equates himself with them. He is also a slimy thing that lives on when better men than him lie dead all around him.

The punishment continues as the dead men continue to stare at him, even seeming to follow the Mariner when he closes his eyes. Seven days he lives with those staring eyes, caught literally between life and death. The bodies do not decay, and the Mariner does not die of thirst or hunger or exposure. The sun does not appear. He sails in a never-ending sort of night, his only company those horrible creatures he so hated earlier.

But after these seven days, the Mariner begins to notice the beauty in the sea serpents swimming beside the ship. He describes them: "Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, / They coiled and swam; and every track / Was a flash of golden fire." This is quite a change from the thousand slimy things from just a few stanzas earlier. He rejoices in their presence, "O happy living things! no tongue / Their beauty might declare: / A spring of love gushed from my heart, / And I blessed them unaware" and accepts—even loves—their existence.

This acceptance of the supernatural and natural worlds unlocks the Mariner and he is able to pray. By embracing the Romantic ideal that these creatures are natural, beautiful, and beings created by God just as he is, the Mariner has completed a portion of his penance, and the Albatross slips from his neck. By reaching the understanding that everything in the natural world is connected, he partially absolves himself of the sin of killing the Albatross.

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