The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a lyrical ballad i.e. a poem written in the form and style of a folk ballad which is usually written by an anonymous person. The ballad is a narrative song-poem, usually relating a single, dramatic incident or story, in a form suitable for singing or rhythmical chanting.
Folk ballads often have sudden dramatic beginnings, are written in the form of a dialogue usually between the narrator and the listeners as well as between characters. The language is simple but there is plenty of repetition and use of archaic words. There is sudden change of action besides music and rhythm. The poem contains all these characteristics. Hence, it is a ballad although not a folk-ballad.
Part 1: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Analysis
The poem is about how the Ancient Mariner’s ship sailed past the Equator and was driven by storms to the cold regions towards the South Pole; from thence she sailed back to the tropical Latitude of the Pacific Ocean; how the Ancient Mariner cruelly and inhospitably-killed a sea-bird called Albatross, and how he was followed by many and strange distresses; and also how he could come back to his own country.
It is an ancient Mariner,
This first line of the poem is the poet’s comment, who introduces the central character – an old Mariner. The poem, thus, begins abruptly without any introduction, and the main character of the poem, that is; Mariner, stops or detains one of the three wedding guests who are going to attend a marriage feast. When we come to the third line of the poem, we are introduced to the Wedding-guest who is surprised by the strange Mariner’s audacity to stop him.
This wedding guest notices the two striking features of the Mariner’s appearance –his long grey beard and his eyes shining. The Wedding-guest is annoyed with the Mariner for stopping him, and asks him why do you stop me, or why have you stopped me. He says that the doors are wide open to welcome the guests, and I am a close relative of the Bridegroom’s family and my presence at the wedding is a must. He says the wedding-feast has been laid on the table, and I can hear the happy-sounding noise of singing and dancing. The merry din indicates the marriage festivity. The personal appearance of the Mariner is gradually developed.
Where in the first stanza, the poet gives us a little detail about Mariner’s long grey beard and glittering eye, in the third part he talks about his lean and thin hand. In this stanza, the Mariner physically stops the Wedding-guest by catching hold of his hand, and starts narrating his story to the wedding guest, such as: ‘There was a ship.’
However, the guest found it very unusual and strange to hold off his hand and says let go of my hand, you old crazy fellow. The Mariner at once lets go of the Wedding Guest’s hand because he knows he can hold his (Wedding-Guest) attention otherwise also.
He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
In this fourth stanza of the poem, the Mariner casts a hypnotic spell on the Wedding-guest. That is; instead of holding the guest by his hand, the Mariner now holds him with his glittering eye, and the Wedding-guest, on being hypnotized by the Mariner, listens to him obediently and helplessly. The last line of this stanza has two connotations, that is; (1) The Mariner succeeded in having his way i.e. he succeeded in doing what he wanted to do – to make the Wedding-Guest listen to his story, (2) The Mariner succeeded in getting full control of the Wedding-guest by making him agree to listen to the story.
The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.
In the fifth stanza, the hypnotized Wedding-guest sits on a stone and is left with no option but to hear the Mariner who has hypnotized him with his glittering eyes. Since the Wedding-guest has been hypnotized by the ancient Mariner, hence he is helpless and cannot exercise his own will, so he is compelled to listen to the bright-eyed Mariner’s story of sin and suffering.
‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.
In this stanza, the Mariner begins his story like: our friends and relatives gave a cheerful send off when our ship set sail. The ship crossed the harbor very quickly and entered the main sea waters. The sailors sailed away happily (unaware of the disaster that awaited their ship). They were merrily sailing along with the ebb tide. As the ship sailed away from the coast, the church, the hill, and the lighthouse on top of the hill disappeared from the sailor’s view.
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.
In this stanza, the Mariner says that the sun rises on the left-hand side of the ship. This means that the ship was sailing towards the South. There is a picturesque touch in this line. The sun seemed to rise from and set into the sea. The use ‘he’ refers to the Sun here, which was rising from the sea. The Mariner further says that it was shining brightly on the right side of the ship. There is also internal rhyme in the line. The word at the end of the first phrase is rhyming with the end of the second phrase.
Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon—’
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.
In this stanza, the Mariner says that the sun seemed to attain greater height with the passage of each day, meaning that the ship was nearing the equator. And when the ship came to the Equator, the sun was directly over the mast of the ship. The sun is at 90 at Noon at the Equator.
However, the sudden sound of the bassoon diverted the hypnotized Wedding-Guest’s attention and he protested his forceful detention as well as showed his impatience and displeasure.
The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.
In these lines, the Wedding-guest, on recovering his consciousness, noticed that the wedding ceremony had started. The bride whose face was as beautiful as a red rose was being brought into the hall in the accompaniment of singers and musicians who were moving their heads as they were singing and leading the bride to the hall.
The use of the word ‘pace’ is more musical and poetic than walked and entered and is suggestive of the Bride’s elegant gait, whereas the ‘Red as a rose is she’ is a simile whereby the poet through the Wedding Guest says that the bride is as beautiful as a red rose is. The meaning of minstrelsy is a body of singers and musicians who lead the bride to the hall.
The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.
Through these lines, the poet tells that despite all his protests, the Wedding-guest is not allowed to go. The Ancient Mariner continues to narrate his story. This is because the Mariner has hypnotized him, and now the guest has no option but to hear the story of the bright-eyed Mariner Ancient 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.
In this stanza, the Mariner resumes his narrative by creating thrill and excitement from the very first line of this stanza. The Mariner says that a strong sea storm rose. ‘He’ in the third line of this stanza, refers to the storm. The storm has been personified as very violent and fierce. The storm overtook the ship which was caught in its furry. It is to be noted that the storm has been compared to a huge and swift bird of prey or a winged monster that pounces upon the ship – its prey. The ship was forcibly driven by the storm towards the South Pole.
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.
In these lines, the Mariner says that the ship was bent forward by the force of the wind. Going up and down the waves, its fore-part was often submerged into the water. The ship looked like a person on the run being chased by an enemy who is shouting and pursuing with all this force. Just like a man running fast bends his head forward, the front part of the ship was also bent forward. The Mariner further says that the enemy is so close that his shadow is falling on the person being chased. The storm continued to blow and it quickly carried away the ship towards the South Pole.
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
In these lines, continued to narrate his story to the Wedding Guest, the Mariner says that the ship reached the South Pole, full of mist and snow. The cold was really unbearable. Icebergs as high as the mast of the ship were floating here and there in the sea, and the greenish reflection of the sea makes the icebergs look like emeralds.
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 Mariner, through these lines, says that there were all around the drifts (floating ice), and the icebergs though shining presented a sad and gloomy sight. He further says that we could not see any human being or any animal in that cold region as huge masses of snow blocked the view. The extent and spread of ice al around the ship have been emphasized with the repetition of the words like ‘ice’ ‘here’, ‘there’, and ‘all around’. In all, there was ice all around.
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!
The extent and spread of ice all around the ship have been emphasized with the repetition of the words like ‘ice’ ‘here’, ‘there’, and ‘all around’. In all, there was ice all around. The words ‘cracked’ and ‘growled’ ‘roared’ and ‘howled’ collectively convey their meaning through the sound they produce.
The splitting up of huge chunks of ice, their sliding and falling into the sea has been described here with these onomatopoetic words. Besides, there is also a simile in ‘Like noises in a swound!’ This means the noise produced by the splitting icebergs are such as the distant thundering and rumbling heard by a person in a fainting fit.
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.
In this part of the poem, we are introduced to Albatross, who plays a pivotal role in the poem. Continuing his narration to the Wedding-Guest, the Mariner says that, after a considerable time had passed, an Albatross came through the fog.
The Albatross is a very large, chiefly white oceanic and an ice-winged stout-bodied bird that has long narrow wings, and is mainly found in the Pacific and Southern Oceans. The Mariner considers and compares the bird with the Christian soul, and hails it in God’s name. It is to be noted that the Albatross was the first living being the sailors came across in the region of mist and snow. Believing that it was just like them – a creature of God, the sailors welcomed it on board their ship. Its arrival lifted their spirits and brought them hope.
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!
Talking about Albatross, the Mariner says the sailors gave it food that they were carrying for themselves. The bird had never had such food earlier, and it was hovering over the ship because there was food there. The Albatross cut the ice or the iceberg and made a way for the ship. Then the ship started moving and the sailor (one who is driving the boat) started steering the ship. The sailor in fact skilfully managed to steer the ship through the gap.
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!
The Mariner further says that now a favorable south wind began to blow from behind. The Albatross was still following the ship and would come and sit on the mast or the ropes tying the sails to the mast. Every day it responded to the Mariner’s call to take food or to play with him and other sailors on the boat.
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.’
The Albatross would come and sit on the mast or the sails at the time of the evening prayer. During this period, the moon shone dimly through the smoke like a white fog. The atmosphere in this stanza is: the sky was overcast with clouds. There was mist all around. Even the nights were foggy. Piercing through this fog, the moonbeams could be seen shining dimly.
Let me tell you that the word ‘vespers’ refers to an evening time prayer in Churches. Thus, ‘vespers nine’ can mean a period of nine days. Nine is a magical number that fascinated Coleridge, whereas the word ‘Shroud’ here stands for the sail of the ship.
‘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.
In this stanza, the Ancient Mariner looked terrified. The Wedding-Guest wished God to shower mercy on him and protect him from devils that tortured him. He asked the Mariner why he looked thus. The Mariner simply replied, “I shot the Albatross with my crossbow.”
The ancient Mariner had wantonly killed the innocent Albatross who had brought new hope to the sailors and whose arrival coincided with the blowing of the South Wind. It was criminal to kill the very creature who had brought a turning point for the better in their lives.