Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Part III: The Rime of The Ancient Mariner by S.T. Coleridge

‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s best-known poem it is also Coleridge’s longest poem. It was written over the course of a year from 1797 to 1798 and published immediately after in the first edition of Lyrical BalladsThe poem, along with others, is often cited when speaking about the beginnings of Romanticism in England. Throughout the poem, Coleridge uses literary techniques like personification and repetition while also shifting the mood between peace, fear, and feelings of doom.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a particular long poem, split into seven sections. Please feel free to view any of the other parts that have been analyzed on

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7


The third part of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes the “weary time” the sailors spend at sea.

During this terrible period of time in the ship’s journey, the sailors are incredibly parched. THere’s a moment of hope when a speck comes close in the sky from the west, but due to their dehydration, no one can speak. The Mariner eventually bites his own arm and wets his lips with his blood. With this act, he’s able to alert the crew to the ship on the horizon. Unfortunately, the joy turns to horror when they realize the ship is a ghost ship. The Mariner can see “Death” as a passenger on the ship as well as “Life-in-Death.” The two are playing dice for the crew and Life in Death has won the soul of the Mariner. The other sailors turn to curse the Mariner then one after the other the men drop dead on the ship.


Coleridge engages with themes of sins/forgiveness and nature in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ The nature imagery in ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is impossible to avoid. Throughout the poem, the poet uses nature as the controlling force in the Mariner’s life, and those of his fellow men. At various points, it appears that nature is on their side, except, of course, after the Mariner makes the mistake of kill the albatross. It’s then that their little bit of luck runs out and they face many stanzas of hardship. The Mariner spends the rest of the poem paying for the one, great sin of killing the bird. At the end of this section, the Mariner bites his own arm, an act of self-sacrifice that should work in his favor.

Structure and Form

The text is in short ballad stanzas that are usually four or six lines long. But, some reach as many as nine lines in length. The meter is only sometimes structured. The odd lines are usually in tetrameter while the even lines are in trimeter, features of ballad stanzas. The rhyme scheme is usually either ABAB or ABABAB but there are some alterations, for example, some stanzas rhyme ABCCB or ABAAB.

‘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 a sudden change of action besides music and rhythm. The poem contains all these characteristics. Hence, it is a ballad although not a folk-ballad.

Literary Devices

Coleridge makes use of several literary devices in this part of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ as well as in all the other sections. These include but are not limited to personification, alliteration, repetition, and imagery. The latter is one of the most important techniques a poet can use in their work. Without it, readers might leave the poem interested or unmoved by what they read. For example, “The western wave was all a-flame” and “With throats unslaked, with black lips baked.”

Alliteration is a type of repetition that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “weary” and “Was” in lines one and two of the first stanza of part III. Repetition also occurs more broadly in the poem with Coleridge’s use and reuse of refrains, images, and words that begin and end lines (examples of anaphora and epistrophe).

Personification is another technique readers can find throughout ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ Coleridge personifies the water, death, and the albatross at various moments in the poem.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a particular long poem, split into seven sections. Please feel free to view any of the other parts that have been analysed on

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Part 3: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Analysis

There passed a weary time. Each throat

Was parched, and glazed each eye.

A weary time! a weary time!

How glazed each weary eye,

When looking westward, I beheld

A something in the sky.

In this first stanza of the third part of the poem, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner By S.T. Coleridge, the mariner says that we had a weary time, and each man’s throat was dried up with thirst. The eyes of each of us glazed, as if they were made of glass. It was a weary, painful, time, when our eyes glazed. And then, suddenly, looking westward, the mariner noticed a strange thig in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,

And then it seemed a mist;

It moved and moved, and took at last

A certain shape, I wist.

In these lines the mariner says that at first, the thing looked like a speck. And then it got enlarged into a dim appearance. It moved onward, and at last took a certain form, as I thought.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!

And still it neared and neared:

As if it dodged a water-sprite,

It plunged and tacked and veered.

The mariner further says beginning with the form of a dot; it assumed a dim appearance, and then a shape, as he could gather. It came closer and closer all the time. Yet its course was not course, and also changed directions frequently as if it evaded some water-spirit.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,

We could nor laugh nor wail;

Through utter drought all dumb we stood!

I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,

And cried, A sail! a sail!

He says since our throats were dry, and our lips were parched, we could neither laugh nor cry. Because of utter drought, all of us stood dumb. So in order to tell other mariners of the approaching ship, the mariner bit his arm, and sucked his own blood to moisten his tongue and sucked his own blood to moisten his tongue and throat. And when he was able to speak, he exclaimed that there was a ship near the horizon.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,

Agape they heard me call:

Gramercy! they for joy did grin,

And all at once their breath drew in.

As they were drinking all.

In this extract, the mariner says that with dry throats and parched lips, the mariners heard his (mariner) exclamation. And they (mariners) opened their mouths wide in surprise to see the ship. They (mariners) also exclaimed, “Gramercy!” and smiled broadly, for joy. Then at once they drew in their breath as if all of them were drinking water.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!

Hither to work us weal;

Without a breeze, without a tide,

She steadies with upright keel!

In these lines the mariner says immediately I (mariner) urged them to notice that the ship did not sail in a zigzag course anymore and that it was coming towards us, straight, to be of great help to us. I (mariner) also pointed out that it was something divine. For it was sailing steadily, with upright keel, without a breeze or a tide.

The western wave was all a-flame.

The day was wellnigh done!

Almost upon the western wave

Rested the broad bright Sun;

When that strange shape drove suddenly

Betwixt us and the Sun.

And straight the Sun was flecked with bars,

(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)

As if through a dungeon-grate he peered

With broad and burning face.

In the above lines the Mariner further says that the sea-waves in the West were all golden with rays of the setting Sun. They looked reddish as if they were all fame. The day had almost come to an end. And the broad bright sun was almost resting upon the Western part of the sea. Just at that moment the strange ship suddenly came between our vision and the sun. And immediately the sun appeared to be marked with bars. Filled with fear, I (the mariner) prayed that Virgin Mary might send us grace. And with broad and burning face, the prison—the fact was that it was the skeleton of a ship.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)

How fast she nears and nears!

Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,

Like restless gossameres?

Mariner says that it was a cause of sorrow, he thought, and his heart beat fast. And the skeleton ship sailed fast, and came closer and closer every moment. Its parts looked like silky spider-webs floating in the calm air, and shining in the sun. In amazement, I (the Mariner) asked myself (himself) whether they were its sails that shone in the sun like floating silky spider-webs.

Are those her ribs through which the Sun

Did peer, as through a grate?

And is that Woman all her crew?

Is that a DEATH? and are there two?

Is DEATH that woman’s mate?

The mariner then asked himself whether they were its ribs through which they peeped, as if it were behind prison bars. Then noticing the figure of a woman in it, I (the mariner) asked himself whether she was alone there as her sailor. Was she a ghost? Do the ghostly figures on the ship form a pair? Was the second a figure mate to the first? These lines are really amazing, and the question asked in the last lines show how much terrified the mariner was.

Her lips were red, her looks were free,

Her locks were yellow as gold:

Her skin was as white as leprosy,

The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,

Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

Describing the physical features of the woman, the mariner says that the ghostly woman’s lips were red. Her looks were bold. Her hair was yellow as gold. Her skin was as white as leprous skin. The horrifying woman was Life-in-Death. She was so horrible that her sight could freeze a man’s blood with cold fear.

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.

Just then the mariner notices something and says soon the skeleton ship arrived by the side of our ship. The two ghostly figures were seen playing dice, one to win our (mariners) ship’s crew and the other to win me i.e. the Ancient Mariner. Suddenly Life-in-Death exclaimed with delight that the game was over, and that she had won me, as her stake. And then she whistled three times merrily.

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;

At one stride comes the dark;

With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,

Off shot the spectre-bark.

He says just then the sun sank in the western part of the sea. Abruptly the stars began to twinkle in the sky. Soon it was dark all around. Then, with a loud whispering sound which could be heard from far, over the sea, the ghostly ship disappeared in the dark.

We listened and looked sideways up!

Fear at my heart, as at a cup,

My life-blood seemed to sip!

The stars were dim, and thick the night,

The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;

From the sails the dew did drip—

Till clomb above the eastern bar

The hornèd Moon, with one bright star

Within the nether tip.

We (the mariners) listened to the echo whisper. We also looked up sideways. My heart was filled with fear, as if it were a cup. The stars shone dimly. The night was thick with the dark. And in the lamp-slights, I (the ancient mariner) noticed that our (his) steersman’s face was white with great fear.

The mariner in the further lines says that he also noticed that dew-drops dipped from his sails. Trembling with fear, he peered into the dark till the crescent moon, with one bright star within its lover thin curve, rose above the eastern horizon. About the last two lines of the above stanza, Coleridge says it is a common superstition among sailors that something is about to happen whenever a star dogs the moon. The “horned moon” refers to the crescent moon whose two upper ends look like its horns.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,

Too quick for groan or sigh,

Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,

And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,

(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)

With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,

They dropped down one by one.

Through these lines, the mariner says that then, as if struck by the star-dogged moon, each of his fellow mariners twisted his face with a death-like pain, looked at him with cursing eyes, and quickly fell down dead, without a groan or sigh, one after the other.

He says that two hundred living men dropped down dead, one by one, each with a heavy thud. The mariner says he did not hear their sigh or groan.

The souls did from their bodies fly,—

They fled to bliss or woe!

And every soul, it passed me by,

Like the whizz of my cross-bow!

In these last lines of the poem, the mariner says that their souls fled their bodies to enter heaven or hell. Yet each soul passed by him with a whizzing sound like that of his arrow that had killed the Albatross. The use of word “whizz” in the last line of the extract stands for the hissing sound made by the mariner’s arrow which killed the albatross, whereas, “cross-bow” refers to arrow form the cross-bow.

Similar Poems

Readers who enjoyed the third part of this poem should also read some of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s other best-known poems. For example, Kubla Khan,’ ‘The Knight’s Tomb,‘ and ‘The Pains of Sleep.’ The first of these is also quite well-known. In it, he describes Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome in a dream-like state. ‘The Knight’s Tomb’ is considered an allegory, one that focuses on an image of a blind boy. ‘The Pains of Sleep’ describes a period in the speaker’s life in which he’s plagued by terrible imagery, not dissimilar to some of the imagery in this section of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’ 

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a particular long poem, split into seven sections. Please feel free to view any of the other parts that have been analysed on

Part 1 Part 2 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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