The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Part V Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
- Not only can he pray again, but he can also sleep again. Exhausted from all the endless cursing and dying of thirst, he falls asleep. He credits Mary, the mother of Christ, for this sleep.
- Naturally, he dreams about drinking water. But his dream actually comes true: it rains when he wakes up. Sailors are really good at collecting rainwater from their sails and in buckets, and the Mariner has all the water he needs.
- (In reality, a severely dehydrated person like that would probably die from drinking too much water too fast, but we won't quibble with Coleridge on this one.)
- He feels as light as if he had died and was now a ghost. But a happy ghost.
- Now that the curse has been lifted, more good news follows. He hears a loud wind in the distance. The sound of the wind rattles the dried out ("sere") sails. But it's important to remember that the wind hasn't reached the ship yet.
- He sees new activity in the sky. More stars return, and he sees things he calls "fire-flags." We have to think he's either talking about weird lightning flashes – but without clouds to block the stars – or the Aurora (in this case, the Southern Lights).
- He sees a black cloud, the partial moon and lightning falling in perfectly vertical fashion. We're not sure exactly what's going on, except that these are wild descriptions.
- OK, so what was the point of the wind if it "never reached the ship"? The wind was supposed make the ship sail again, but it does no good at a distance. Except if you have a mysterious force moving your ship: score!
- Like a scene from Frankenstein, the dead sailors rise up amid the thunder and lightning. They look like zombies and don't say a word. But they all do the jobs they are supposed to do, helping to sail the ship.
- If you're starting to suspect that the movie Pirates of the Caribbean borrowed a lot of material from Coleridge, we're right there with you.
- The Mariner goes with the flow, and he basically says, "I don't care if these guys are just bodies with no souls, as long as we get moving again, I'll help out."
- The Wedding Guest interrupts the story again. He's not the bravest Wedding Guest we've ever heard of. He's afraid that the Mariner is now telling a zombie story.
- The Mariner reassures the frightened Wedding Guest that the bodies of the sailors were possessed not by their original owners, but by a bunch of good spirits, like angels. Oh, that helps.
- The Mariner continues his story.
- He knew that spirits were angels because, when dawn comes, they all escape from the bodies and break out into song.
- The spirits float around the ship and sing like birds. They are like an entire symphony of voices. They stop singing after dawn, but the sails continue to make a pleasant sound like a stream following through a forest.
- The ship keeps moving, but there's no wind. What gives? The Mariner is sticking with his theory that someone or something is moving the boat from underneath the ocean.
- The Mariner explains his theory in more detail. The same spirit "nine fathoms deep" that earlier caused such problems near the Arctic has now decided to play nice and guide the ship up to the equator. At noon the sun is again directly above the mast, which means that we're back at the equator.
- The ship stops and remains motionless for a bit. Then, all of a sudden, the ship takes off as if someone has just released a really fast horse or, to use a more modern metaphor, as if someone has put the gas pedal to the floor.
- The force of this movement knocks out the Mariner, and he loses consciousness. While in a stupor, he hears two mysterious voices talking. We're back in supernatural territory, here.
- One of the voices wants to know if the Mariner is the guy who shot the nice albatross. He sounds judgmental.
- The other voice sounds gentler and says that the Mariner has done a lot of penance for his mistake, and he'll do more penance in the future.
- We've got a bit of a good cop/bad cop routine here.