The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Complete Explanation

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (text of 1834)

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge [Part 1 and 2]

Complete exposition of the poetry ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ included in the CBSE Class 10 syllabus

Part I

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.


A mariner, beaten down by a long harrowing sea voyage, stops a wedding guest at the door to unburden his pent-up feelings about the eventful journey. The guest, who is there as an invitee, has little patience to lend his ears to the old man. But the latter’s flowing white beard and piercing eyes makes the guest stop to hear the stranger out.

As the old man proceeds with his account of his journey, the wedding-guest’s mind is swamped by a mix of emotions. First he is bemused, then he shows impatience. But, soon he is gripped by fascination and fear as the old man’s account of his voyage unravels a series of intriguing events.

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—’
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

Explanation …. When the ship of the mariner set sail for its destination, the signs were propitious. The spirit of the sailors was high and there was all round cheer on board the ship. As the sip progressed farther and farther from the shore, the view of the church, hill and the lighthouse receded to the background.
THE Sun rose from the left, climbed vertically overhead, and set in the right slowly losing its shine.
As days went by, the Sun’s trajectory changed till it came right above the mast of the ship at moon.
At this point, the listener saw the beautiful bride being ushered in. There was joy and excitement in the air. The bassoon was played. The guest wanted to break free to go and join the festivities of the wedding. But the mariner wouldn’t let him go, as he had lot many things to narrate.
Then, a very horrible storm began to blow. It was a treacherous gust of wind that rocked the ship violently.
The storm pushed the ship southwards. This was not the intended course.
The sailors lowered the masts to minimize the force of the storm. However, the wind was unforgiving. It kept pushing the ship unrelentingly in southerly direction. The sailors had no option but to wait out the storm. But the wait proved to be interminable. It was a very unnerving experience for the crew.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between.

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God’s name.

It ate the food it ne’er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

Explanation …. Then came a sharp change in the weather around the ship. It became very cold and snow. Large mounds of snow were seen floating on the sea water. Soon, the ship found itself making its way through large ominous-looking chunks of floating ice. As the temperature dropped, the mood among the sailors dropped. With poor visibility, the ambience on board the ship became gloomy.
The ship had to virtually make its way tearing through the thick layer of ice making a frightening sound.
Despair and dismay was pervasive on board the beleaguered ship. Suddenly from nowhere an Albatross appeared in the sky. For the sailors, it brought hope and huge relief. They felt the Albatross was a god-send that could dispel their fear and uncertainty. They treated the bird with deep reverence.
The sailors offered food to the Albatross. It hovered in the sky around their ship.
Finally, the ice began to melt and the resistance faced by the ship disappeared. The ship began to move forward again.

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.’

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow
I shot the ALBATROSS.

Explanation … A forceful south wind began to blow from the back of the ship. Happily for the sailors, it reversed the course of the ship. It was a very welcome course correction.
The Albatross did not fly away abandoning the ship. It kept flying in the vicinity of the ship. The crew gladly offered it food every day. Whenever, the sailor called it, it responded easily. It rested on the mast of the ship at night and during mist. It joined the crew in their night prayer.
The moon shone brightly at night. The Albatross appeared to beseech God to bring good luck to the endangered mariners.
But, the mariner, gripped by an irresponsible and mischievous intent, killed the Albatross with his cross-bow.

The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.

The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.

Explanation …. The Sun rose in the right instead of the left since the ship was sailing in the opposite direction thanks to the south wind coming from behind. As usual it rose to the sky and then dipped into the sea in the opposite side.

However, there was no trace of the Albatross. It had perished. There was no one whom the sailors could offer food or play with. The mariner had committed the most odious crime by killing the Albatross which had helped the voyagers from the jaws of a certain disaster. It was inevitable that God’s retribution would soon come.

The mariner was cursed by all other crew members for his dastardly act. They all vented their ire on the mariner for his reckless act of cruelty.
Despite the ominous warnings and the air of gloom hanging heavy on the ship, the voyage continued. The friendly wind continued to push the ship in the right direction.

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.

About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.

And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.

And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Explanation … Soon, the inevitable happened. The wind that was propelling the ship became weak. The sails became flaccid and lifeless. The crew members were overtaken by a sense of doom and gloom. Their cheerfulness was replaced by dejection and despair. They became silent talking to one another briefly only when necessary.
The Sun rose as usual everyday and climbed vertically to its position over the mast at noon. There was no change in its position as the ship became stationary, hardly moving from its position.
The landscape hardly changed. The ship looked the same every day. It appeared as if a painted ship was standing on a painted sea.
There was sea standing still around the ship. The ship began exhausting its stock of drinking water. There was no way to replenish the stock. The ship’s supplies began to perish. Sea creatures began to float around in the sea around the ship.
The crew began to have nightmares. They felt as if some hideous fire was burning on the water around. In their hallucination, they felt as if the water was burning with strange green, blue and white glow. It seemed to be the handiwork of witches. The situation became intolerably appalling.
Some crew members dreamed that an evil spirit was out to wreck vengeance on the ship. From deep under the sea, the spirit had come up to punish the ill-fated ship and its crew. It was as if the dance of death was being unraveled.
With parched tongues and emaciated bodies, the sailors could hardly utter any word. The sailors were at the end of their tethers barely clutching to their lives.
Everyone concluded that their plight was a result of the sin incurred in killing the benign Albatross. They all cursed the mariner with all the bitterness they could command.
Finally, the dead Albatross’s body appeared from nowhere and hung from the mariner’s neck.

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