"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Parts I-IV
Summary
Three young men are walking together to a wedding, when one of them is
detained by a grizzled old sailor. The young Wedding-Guest angrily demands
that the Mariner let go of him, and the Mariner obeys. But the young man is
transfixed by the ancient Mariner's "glittering eye" and can do nothing but
sit on a stone and listen to his strange tale. The Mariner says that he
sailed on a ship out of his native harbor--"below the kirk, below the hill,
/ Below the lighthouse top"--and into a sunny and cheerful sea. Hearing
bassoon music drifting from the direction of the wedding, the Wedding-Guest
imagines that the bride has entered the hall, but he is still helpless to
tear himself from the Mariner's story. The Mariner recalls that the voyage
quickly darkened, as a giant storm rose up in the sea and chased the ship
southward. Quickly, the ship came to a frigid land "of mist and snow,"
where "ice, mast-high, came floating by"; the ship was hemmed inside this
maze of ice. But then the sailors encountered an Albatross, a great sea
bird. As it flew around the ship, the ice cracked and split, and a wind
from the south propelled the ship out of the frigid regions, into a foggy
stretch of water. The Albatross followed behind it, a symbol of good luck
to the sailors. A pained look crosses the Mariner's face, and the Wedding-
Guest asks him, "Why look'st thou so?" The Mariner confesses that he shot
and killed the Albatross with his crossbow.
At first, the other sailors were furious with the Mariner for having killed
the bird that made the breezes blow. But when the fog lifted soon
afterward, the sailors decided that the bird had actually brought not the
breezes but the fog; they now congratulated the Mariner on his deed. The
wind pushed the ship into a silent sea where the sailors were quickly
stranded; the winds died down, and the ship was "As idle as a painted ship
/ Upon a painted ocean." The ocean thickened, and the men had no water to
drink; as if the sea were rotting, slimy creatures crawled out of it and
walked across the surface. At night, the water burned green, blue, and
white with death fire. Some of the sailors dreamed that a spirit, nine
fathoms deep, followed them beneath the ship from the land of mist and
snow. The sailors blamed the Mariner for their plight and hung the corpse
of the Albatross around his neck like a cross.
A weary time passed; the sailors became so parched, their mouths so dry,
that they were unable to speak. But one day, gazing westward, the Mariner
saw a tiny speck on the horizon. It resolved into a ship, moving toward
them. Too dry-mouthed to speak out and inform the other sailors, the
Mariner bit down on his arm; sucking the blood, he was able to moisten his
tongue enough to cry out, "A sail! a sail!" The sailors smiled, believing
they were saved. But as the ship neared, they saw that it was a ghostly,
skeletal hull of a ship and that its crew included two figures: Death and
the Night-mare Life-in-Death, who takes the form of a pale woman with
golden locks and red lips, and "thicks man's blood with cold." Death and
Life-in-Death began to throw dice, and the woman won, whereupon she
whistled three times, causing the sun to sink to the horizon, the stars to
instantly emerge. As the moon rose, chased by a single star, the sailors
dropped dead one by one--all except the Mariner, whom each sailor cursed
"with his eye" before dying. The souls of the dead men leapt from their
bodies and rushed by the Mariner.
The Wedding-Guest declares that he fears the Mariner, with his glittering
eye and his skinny hand. The Mariner reassures the Wedding-Guest that there
is no need for dread; he was not among the men who died, and he is a living
man, not a ghost. Alone on the ship, surrounded by two hundred corpses, the
Mariner was surrounded by the slimy sea and the slimy creatures that
crawled across its surface. He tried to pray but was deterred by a "wicked
whisper" that made his heart "as dry as dust." He closed his eyes, unable
to bear the sight of the dead men, each of who glared at him with the
malice of their final curse. For seven days and