The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Study Guide

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner | Part 7 | Summary

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Summary

The ship sinks and the Mariner is hauled into the Pilot's boat. The Pilot thinks him dead, so he is surprised when the Mariner takes up the oars to row. When the Mariner reaches the shore of his own country, he asks the Hermit for absolution.

The Mariner tells the Hermit his tale—he feels a compulsion to do so, and he is relieved when he is finished. The Mariner tells the Wedding Guest that it has been this way since that night: he feels horribly compelled to tell his tale and must do so or suffer great pain. The Mariner travels from place to place to find the next person he must tell his tale to.

As the Wedding Guest hears the wedding ending, the Mariner wraps up his tale. He leaves the Wedding Guest with advice to love everyone and everything that God made. The Wedding Guest walks away from the wedding after the Mariner leaves him, and he is left to ponder the meaning and moral of the Mariner's story.

Analysis

As the Pilot's boat approaches, Coleridge hearkens back to the description of the ghostly ship that carried Life-in-Death. The Pilot and the Hermit observe the Mariner's ship, describing the sails and boards in a similar fashion to that of Life-in-Death's ship. "Dear Lord! it hath a fiendish look— / (The Pilot made reply) / I am a-feared" is the Pilot's response to the sight, his terror mirroring the Mariner's. The Mariner has come out the other side of his journey profoundly changed, and this allusion is a manifestation of that journey. This signals the end of the supernatural events in the poem (aside from the Mariner's presence).

Nature consumes the ship as a whirlpool suddenly sucks the craft down beneath the waves. The Mariner is saved by the Pilot, the lone survivor, and surprises them all when he speaks because they thought he was dead. This is another allusion to Life-in-Death and her winning his soul. It was why he didn't die with the rest of the crew and why he can't die now, even though he probably appears half-dead after his ordeals. His otherworldly appearance is confirmed again when the Pilot's Boy says, "The Devil knows how to row."

The Hermit is a representative of the Romantic Movement, and it is fitting that he is the first person the Mariner tells his story to. The Hermit lives a quietly pious life, existing in harmony with nature. (Although, ironically, the Hermit loves talking to people.) He sees that the Mariner has been touched by the unnatural, asking, "What manner of man art thou?" It is then that the nature of his penance reveals itself—the sharp pain that he knows will only grow in agony until the Mariner tells his story.

His tale finished, the Mariner tells the Wedding Guest that he has wandered around the world telling his story whenever he feels the pain return. Another supernatural element of his cursed penance is that he claims to always know the man with whom he must share his story. This is the final component of the penance—imparting his moral to the proper audience. The Mariner is caught in an endless cycle of sin and redemption, of penance and absolution. The Mariner has lost his innocent state (another belief held by the Romantics) by killing the Albatross, mimicking a moral fall that he must strive to overcome.

The Mariner finally leaves the Wedding Guest with the moral of this tale (as Coleridge leaves his readers with it): that the best way to connect with the Divine is through the sublime. The Mariner believes that the best way to connect with God is through the appreciation and love of nature. Coleridge is driving home one of the basic tenets of the Romantic Period here, arguing for an almost spiritual relationship with the natural world.

The poem's final lines leave us with the Wedding Guest. The power of the Mariner's story has deeply affected him, and he wakes to find himself changed in fundamental ways. The Mariner, as storyteller, is capable of transformation; likewise, so is Coleridge in his role as poet.

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