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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Religious and the Supernatural

Symbol Analysis

It's hard to separate the religious, spiritual, and supernatural in this poem: welcome to Romanticism. By the end of the poem, the message of the Mariner's bizarre and violent story has become, "Go to church and say your prayers, lad." Huh? This message doesn't seem to fit well with the poem's religious and supernatural imagery, which doesn't adhere to traditional Christian themes. Rather, the poem seems more like a radical re-working of Christian symbols. Keep an eye out for the Mariner's attempts to pray in the second half of the poem.

  • Part II.Stanza 32: The sailors begin to dream of a malevolent spirit following them from nine fathoms under the ocean.
  • III.43: The sails of the ghost ship are compared in this simile to "gossamers" or cobwebs.
  • III.44-46: The forces of Death and Life-in-Death are personified as the crew of the Ghost Ship. Life-In-Death is a strange mix of the beautiful and the creepy, as evidenced by two similes: her hair is like gold, but her skin is diseased like a leper's. The dice game they play represents the random fate of the sailors.
  • IV.57: Not only is the weather dry in the middle of the poem, but so is the Mariner's heart. Dry, goes the simile, as dust. His prayer is halted by a "wicked whisper" (alliteration).
  • IV.60: The curse of the sailors is even worse than an orphan's curse, which could drag a heavenly spirit all the way down to hell. Yowza.
  • IV.65: A surge of love in the Mariner when looking at the snakes is described in a metaphor as a "spring," which is an underground source of water.
  • V.67: Sleep is mythologized as a gift from the Virgin Mary.
  • V.70: After the curse is broken and the Mariner can finally get some sleep, he feels as light as a ghost.
  • V.82-84: We learn that angels control the bodies of the sailors. In the morning, the singing of the angels is compared in a simile to singing birds and to a symphony of instruments. A pleasant noise like a babbling brook continues to be heard after the singing has stopped.
  • VII.123: The religiously devout hermit likes to compare stuff with his forest home. Here he gets a kick out of an extended simile that likens the state of a ship to a wintry scene with owls, snow, and brown, crackling leaves.
  • VII.137: The Mariner explains to the Wedding Guest that the voyage could be a metaphor for his own lonely and isolated condition.
  • VII.140-141: The expression, "He prayeth well, who loveth well" could be the Mariner's motto for the entire poem. He recites this expression in each of these two stanzas, turning it into a refrain.

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