The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
How we cite our quotes:
Ah! wel-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung. (II.34)
The albatross becomes a symbol of the Mariner's sin and pride. He thought they could do just fine without the silly bird, and now he's chained to the thing like Steve Martin to John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. This is probably the most well-known image in the poem, and the phrase "albatross around my/your/his/her neck" has entered English the language as an idiom.
Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.
The naked hulk alongside came, And the twain were casting dice; 'The game is done! I've won! I've won!' Quoth she, and whistles thrice. (II.45-46)
The Mariner's fate is appropriately decided by chance: he will either die, or he'll live a life that will be a lot like death. "Life-in-Death" is one of the poem's original mythological creations. Gustav Doré's famous drawing sums up our ambivalent feelings about this handsome dame. One question: does the Mariner continue to live in the state of Life-in-Death even after the sailors' curse is broken?
O happy living things! No tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.
The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea. (IV.65-66)
The Mariner's big moment of conversion is when he realizes that even the grossest, slimiest creatures deserve love and blessing. He's not even aware of blessing them, otherwise his pride would have put a stop to it, but he does, and the curse of the albatross is broken. The albatross falls into the sea, symbolizing the end of his heaviest burden.