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Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
They have spent a long time drifting on the ocean with no wind or water, and everyone is sick of it. Then one day, the Mariner sees something coming from the west; as in, the opposite direction as the Mariner's sweet home England.
He can't decide whether the thing is a small "speck" or a more spread-out "mist." The shape starts to come into focus and he became aware ("wist") of what looked like. It moves around in zigzag fashion as if escaping supernatural forces. Hey, join the club.
The speaker finally realizes what it is, and he wants to shout, but his mouth is too dry. His lips are sunburned and caked with dried blood. When you're as talkative as the Mariner, you know its trouble when you're so dehydrated that you can't speak.
Fortunately, he has a solution that would make the guy from the Survivor Man TV show proud. He bites his arm to wet his lips with his own blood, just enough so that he can shout
He shouts that he sees a sail.
His crewmates are so happy that they shout "gramercy!" meaning, "Thank heavens!"
The ship is coming their way. Maybe their crew will have water.
The sun is setting in the west, and the ship is approaching from the west. Here Coleridge provides a complicated image to illustrate how the ship is really – get ready for it – a Ghost Ship!
Here's the image: the mysterious ship sails in front of the setting sun, and rather than blocking out part of the sun completely, it just looks like the sun has bars in front of it. In other words, the ship looks like a skeleton.
The ship's sails aren't normal sails – you know, the kind that can hold wind. Instead, they look like tattered spider webs, or "gossamers." Its hull looks like ribs. Worst of all, he can now see that the crew consists of only two people: Death and Life-in-Death.
We imagine death as the hooded guy with the sickle, or something like that, while Life-in-Death is a woman who appears relatively normal except for her pale, diseased-looking skin.
When the ship approaches, Death and Life-in-Death are playing a game. (Please be Parcheesi, please be Parcheesi.) They are playing dice (no!) to decide who will gain the upper hand.
We have the feeling that the fate of the Mariner and his friends rests on this dice game.
We have a winner: Life-in-Death! She's just won power over a bunch of raggedy, thirsty sailors. She's probably wishing she had gone on The Price is Right instead – that dinette set is looking pretty good right about now.
But nothing happens…yet.
Night falls, and the mysterious Ghost Ship ("spectre bark") sails away.
Everyone is waiting to see what will happen. Coleridge plays the scene like a suspense movie, complete with dew going drip-drip from the sails. The partial moon rises, and it looks like a "horn," or, if you prefer, a smiley face. One of the "horns" of the moon has a star next to it. This seems to be a bad sign, for some reason.
Suddenly, everyone on the ship begins to die. They don't make a fuss but kind of just slump over. However, they do make sure to curse the Mariner with their eyes before they go.
There are 200 men on the boat besides the Mariner, and they all die. Their souls escape their dead bodies and shoot past the Mariner like the crossbow with which he shot the Albatross.