What is Rime Of The Ancient Mariner About?

by Amy

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is one of the most famous poems of the English Romantic period. Published in 1798 as part of the collection “Lyrical Ballads,” the poem is known for its vivid imagery, supernatural elements, and exploration of profound themes. This article will delve into the narrative, themes, characters, literary devices, historical context, critical interpretations, and the lasting impact of this seminal work.

Summary of the Plot

The poem opens with an ancient mariner stopping a wedding guest to tell him a story. The mariner recounts his harrowing sea voyage that begins with his ship setting sail under good conditions. However, things take a turn for the worse when the mariner inexplicably shoots an albatross, a bird considered to be a good omen by sailors.

This act of senseless violence brings a curse upon the ship and its crew. The winds die, and the ship becomes stranded in a motionless sea. The crew suffers from severe thirst, and in their desperation, they hang the dead albatross around the mariner’s neck as a reminder of his crime.

The supernatural begins to manifest when a ghostly ship approaches, carrying Death and Life-in-Death, who gamble for the souls of the crew. Death wins the lives of the mariners, while Life-in-Death wins the mariner’s life, condemning him to a fate worse than death.

As his crewmates die, the mariner is left alone, haunted by their accusing gazes. He eventually experiences a moment of spiritual awakening when he blesses the sea creatures, breaking the curse. The albatross falls from his neck, and he is able to pray.

The ship is then supernaturally propelled back to his home port, where the mariner is rescued by a hermit, a pilot, and the pilot’s boy. After confessing his tale, the mariner is condemned to wander the earth, compelled to tell his story and teach others to respect all of God’s creations.

Themes and Symbolism

Guilt and Redemption

The theme of guilt is central to the poem. The mariner’s senseless killing of the albatross symbolizes a crime against nature, which brings dire consequences. His journey becomes one of seeking redemption, marked by immense suffering and eventual spiritual renewal. The mariner’s blessing of the sea creatures signifies his repentance and the beginning of his path to redemption.

The Natural and Supernatural

Coleridge weaves the natural world with the supernatural to explore the consequences of disrupting the natural order. The albatross is not just a bird but a symbol of nature’s benign spirit, and its death triggers supernatural retribution. Ghostly ships, spirits, and curses highlight the thin boundary between the natural and supernatural in the poem.

The Consequences of Defying Nature

The mariner’s arbitrary killing of the albatross represents humanity’s often destructive relationship with nature. The subsequent suffering endured by the mariner and his crew underscores the idea that nature must be respected and that transgressions against it bring severe repercussions.

Character Analysis

The Ancient Mariner

The mariner is the poem’s central character, representing a flawed human who undergoes a profound transformation. Initially, he acts thoughtlessly, killing the albatross without reason. However, his long and arduous journey, filled with physical and spiritual torment, leads to his enlightenment. He becomes a penitent figure, condemned to wander and share his cautionary tale.

The Albatross

The albatross serves as a powerful symbol within the poem. Initially a sign of good fortune, its death marks the beginning of the mariner’s suffering. The bird symbolizes nature and its interconnectedness with humanity. The mariner’s eventual realization of the bird’s significance represents his deeper understanding of this bond.

Literary Devices


Coleridge’s use of vivid imagery helps to create a haunting and surreal atmosphere. Descriptions of the becalmed sea, the ghostly ship, and the mariner’s nightmarish experiences are particularly striking. The imagery not only paints a vivid picture but also enhances the emotional and symbolic depth of the poem.


Repetition is a key device in the poem, used to emphasize the mariner’s ongoing torment and the cyclical nature of his penance. Phrases such as “Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink” highlight the dire situation and reinforce the themes of suffering and scarcity.

Rhyme Scheme and Meter

The poem’s structure includes a variable rhyme scheme and meter, which adds to its musical quality and oral tradition feel. The use of ballad stanza (alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter) helps to maintain a rhythmic and engaging narrative flow.

Cultural Significance

The poem reflects contemporary concerns about humanity’s relationship with nature and the consequences of industrialization. It also taps into the Romantic era’s interest in the mystical and the transcendental, challenging Enlightenment rationalism with its emphasis on intuition and imagination.

Critical Interpretations

Early Reception

Initially, the poem received mixed reviews. Some early critics found its supernatural elements overly fanciful, while others appreciated its innovation and emotional depth. Over time, it has come to be recognized as a masterpiece of English literature.

Modern Criticism

Modern critics often explore the poem through various lenses, including ecological criticism, psychoanalytic theory, and post-colonial analysis. Ecocritics view the poem as a commentary on ecological disruption and the need for environmental stewardship. Psychoanalytic readings delve into the mariner’s psyche, interpreting his journey as a metaphor for inner turmoil and guilt. Post-colonial interpretations might examine the mariner’s narrative as an allegory for the destructive impact of colonialism on indigenous peoples and the natural world.


“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a richly layered poem that explores themes of guilt, redemption, and the supernatural through the harrowing journey of its titular character. Coleridge’s masterful use of literary devices, combined with the poem’s profound themes and vivid imagery, ensures its place as a cornerstone of English Romantic literature. Its enduring legacy and impact on both literature and popular culture underscore its significance and continuing relevance. Through his cautionary tale, the ancient mariner reminds us of the fragile balance between humanity and nature, a message as pertinent today as it was in Coleridge’s time.

FAQs about “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

1.What is the short summary of “The Song of the Ancient Ship”?

“The Song of the Ancient Ship” is a poetic narrative that tells the story of an old ship’s journey across treacherous seas. The ship, personified with a rich history of voyages and battles, faces a final, challenging journey. Along the way, the crew encounters fierce storms, mythical creatures, and the haunting memories of past adventures. Ultimately, the ship reaches its final destination, symbolizing the end of its storied life at sea and its transformation into a legendary tale.

2.What is the story behind “The Ancient Boat”?

“The Ancient Boat” is a metaphorical story that delves into the deep connection between a boat and its journey through time and trials. It reflects on the passage of time, the wear and tear experienced, and the memories accumulated. The narrative often involves the boat facing both literal and figurative storms, representing life’s challenges. The story underscores the themes of resilience, legacy, and the enduring spirit of adventure that survives even as the boat ages and eventually comes to rest.

3.What is the main idea of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”?

The main idea of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” revolves around the themes of sin, penance, and redemption. The poem tells the story of an ancient mariner who commits a grave sin by killing an albatross, an act that brings a curse upon him and his ship. The mariner’s journey through suffering and his eventual realization of the sanctity of all life forms the crux of the narrative. The poem emphasizes the interconnectedness of all living things and the importance of respecting nature.

4.What is the main lesson of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”?

The main lesson of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the significance of respecting nature and recognizing the sanctity of all life. The mariner’s senseless killing of the albatross brings severe consequences, teaching him and the readers that every action has repercussions. Through his suffering and eventual redemption, the mariner learns to appreciate the beauty and interconnectedness of all living beings. The poem ultimately conveys that true wisdom and peace come from understanding and respecting the natural world.

Related Articles


Discover the soulful universe of PoemsHubs, where words dance with emotions. Immerse yourself in a collection of evocative verses, diverse perspectives, and the beauty of poetic expression. Join us in celebrating the artistry of words and the emotions they unfold.

Copyright © 2023 poemshubs.com