The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Study Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Part 5 | Summary

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Summary

The Mariner falls asleep and wakes to find it raining. A storm blows up around him, and the ship moves on despite the wind not reaching it. The dead crew rise up and began to take their posts and sail the ship.

When the Wedding Guest expresses his fear of the tale, the Mariner assures him that these were good spirits inhabiting the bodies of his crew. The Mariner believes it was the spirit of the Albatross that caused the ship to move without wind or waves.

The ship stops, then makes a sudden lurch that causes the Mariner to faint. He hears two voices discussing his fate. The first voice says that the spirit that lived in the Arctic lands loved the Albatross that the Mariner killed. The second voice says the Mariner must serve his penance for his actions.

Analysis

This breakthrough gives the Mariner respite through sleep and rain, allowing him to quench his thirst. But his penance is not complete. The natural world is still in upheaval, as evidenced by the violent storm that follows.

The storm, however, never reaches the ship, due in part to another appearance of the supernatural. All of the dead sailors return to their duties on the ship and sail it. These men are not possessed by demonic forces, as the Wedding Guest fears, but by angels (called seraphs). Here is another aspect of the sublime—the grandeur of nature's storm on the sea paired with the spiritual power of God in light of His angels. Still another instance of the supernatural intrudes, as the spirit from the South Pole continues to steer the ship even after the angels disappear. All three are united to bring the Mariner home to safe harbor so he can continue his penance.

Whether the Voices the Mariner hears during his fit are supernatural or spiritual in nature is left open to interpretation. The Voices acknowledge that the Mariner was the man who shot the Albatross (giving another reference to Christ), that the bird was loved by the lonely spirit, and that he has performed penance but is still not finished. The Mariner understands a bit better what he did and what is going to be expected of him. This ties in with the story of the Wandering Jew once more, in that the Mariner's penance seems to be never-ending. If Life-in-Death truly did win his soul in the earlier stanza, such a thing makes sense.

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