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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Albatross

Symbol Analysis

We've got really mixed feelings about the albatross. If it hadn't come along, then sure, the whole crew probably would have died in that ice field. But, to be frank, the consequences of shooting the albatross seem almost worse than death. Maybe that's because shooting it is a completely senseless act. As a persecuted figure of salvation, the albatross resembles Christ in many ways, especially when you consider that a bird often symbolizes Christ.

  • Part I.Stanza 16: The albatross is treated like a person, a "Christian soul," by the lonely sailors. In Christian symbolism, Jesus Christ is sometimes compared metaphorically to a bird, so the albatross could be a symbol for Christ.
  • II.23-24: Coleridge uses parallelism to show how the sailors quickly change their mind about whether killing the albatross is bad or good. The structure of the last four lines of these stanzas is the same, starting with "Then all averred" (agreed) and continuing with "bird to slay."
  • II.24: The albatross becomes the defining symbol of the Mariner's big mistake. As a symbol of the burden of sin, it is compared explicitly to the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.
  • III.51: The curse that the sailors place on the Mariner is tied directly to the killing of the albatross in this simile. Their departing souls pass the Mariner like the "whizz" of the crossbow with which he shot the bird.
  • IV.64: When the Mariner finally learns to pray, the curse is broken and the albatross falls "like lead" (simile) into the ocean.

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