Every now and then, teachers gotta wing it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t—like that time I tried to teach “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” without prepping.
It was in the appendix of the edition of Frankenstein I was teaching and thought I’d read it with the class. After all, it’s just a poem. “How hard could it be?” I thought. Well…
It could have been worse. I, at least, had a prep period after the first disastrous read, of which I understood not a whole lot. I read it closely the next time and after teaching it a few more times really began to appreciate its excellence.
Because I don’t want you to experience my shame, I’m providing a “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” summary and analysis.
For a side-by-side summary of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” click on this “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” summary pdf download.
Part 1 Summary
Three young men are about to enter a wedding when one of the three is accosted by a crazy old man, who grabs one of the young men’s arms and starts a story. The wedding guests frees his arm and calls the old mariner crazy. As he attempts to catch up with his friends, the wedding guest becomes mesmerized by the mariner’s eyes and is forced to listen.
The mariner begins his story. He’s on a ship that encounters a storm and is driven to the icy waters of Antarctica. The ship is stuck until an albatross approaches. A path through the ice appears. A good wind shows up. And the albatross becomes friends with the crew.
Inexplicably, the mariner shoots the albatross with his crossbow.
Part 1 Analysis
Two elements of the Romantic period in literature are prominent in Part I of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”: (1) Fascination with the supernatural; (2) Reverence for nature. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an early Romantic poet and close friends with fellow Romantic William Wordsworth. Wordsworth focused on the nature side of poetry, while Coleridge wrote often of supernatural happenings.
Elements of the supernatural in part 1 include the hypnotic eyes of the mariner, the entrance into a mystical world of ice and snow, and an albatross bringing good luck.
A supernatural element pervades the poem. Much of this element involves a curse brought about after the mariner shoots the albatross.
Part 2 Summary
After the albatross is shot, things appear to be going well…until they aren’t. After reaching a good part of the ocean, the wind stops and the ship no longer moves. Without water, the crew becomes so thirsty they cannot speak.
Weird things happen. Sailors dream about being haunted by the dead albatross. They hang the dead bird around the sailor’s neck.
Part 2 Analysis
The superstitious sailors first attribute the going away of the fog and favorable winds to the shooting of the bird. Then they attribute the stopping of the ship, supernatural occurrences, and incessant thirst to the shooting of the bird. The crew is angry and punishes the mariner.
The mariner’s wearing of the albatross is symbolic of his taking on the crews pain and suffering. The expression “albatross around your neck” has become an idiomatic expression that indicates someone has been burdened with guilt or past misdeeds and suffers because of it.
Part 3 Summary
Things really get strange in part 3. A ship appears and the crew has to drink their own blood in order to speak. Turns out the ship is some kind of demonic skeleton ship crewed by two women: Death and Life in Death, who are playing dice for the mariner’s soul.
Life in Death wins the mariner. Death apparently wins the rest because they all drop dead, but not before giving the mariner an eye curse.
Part 3 Analysis
There is some serious supernatural stuff going on in part 3. There’s good reason to doubt the veracity of this tale, even beyond the fantastical nature of it. It’s possible the mariner is insane. It’s also possible that the narrator is hallucinating—a common symptom of dehydration.
Part 4 Summary
Strange things continue, culminating in a bevvy of colorful snakes, which fill the mariner with love. After experiencing this gush of love, the albatross falls from his neck and the mariner’s ability to pray returns.
Part 4 Analysis
It is never specifically stated what prompts the mariner to kill the albatross and causes the curse on the mariner, but it’s pure love that breaks the curse.
Part 5 Summary
Everything seems to be going well. The narrator gets water. Wind comes. Friendly inhabit the corpses of the crew and produce beautiful music. Then the narrator passes out, wakes up, and hears voices talking about how the mariner needs to do more penance.
Part 5 Analysis
Mercy and Justice take center stage in part 5. Mercy is brought about after the mariner is filled with love for living things. But those who love the albatross aren’t yet finished with their punishment.
Part 6 Summary
More supernatural occurrences make an appearance in part 6. At first, the mariner’s ship is propelled at super human speed, the mariner in a trance. When the ship slows down and the trance is removed, the dead men stand up and give the mariner the evil eye.
The mariner is finally able to turn his head. The wind kicks up and he arrives at his home country, where he is met by three men in a rowboat.
Part 6 Analysis
Apparently the mariner has suffered enough. Or has he? He returns to his home port safely.
Part 7 Summary
The mariner is rescued. The pilot’s assistant goes crazy. The mariner confesses to the hermit. He feels better. Every now and then, as he travels the world, he feels a pressing need to tell the story. He knows exactly who needs to hear it. The wedding ends. The mariner leaves. The wedding guest leaves and wakes up the next morning sadder and wiser.
Part 7 Analysis
The mariner reveals himself as some wandering story-teller, bringing peace to his soul and trouble to the hearts of his listeners by telling his story. The moral of the tale is that love is the solution to one’s problems.
The mention of the wedding feast may be an allusion to the Parable of the 10 Virgins. In the parable, those left out of the wedding feast are consigned an awful fate. In this poem, however, the wedding guest hears an important tale. So what exactly is the wedding guest missing out on? Why does he need to hear the mariner’s story? Heck, I don’t know. Do you?Share This: