“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

  1. (1798) A poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about an old sailor who is compelled to tell strangers about the supernatural adventures that befell him at sea after he killed an albatross, a friendly sea bird. A famous line is “ Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink .” ( See albatross around one's neck .)


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What is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a highly influential 1798 poem by English author Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It is Coleridge’s most famous poem and is considered one of the first works of the Romantic movement in literature.

A mariner is a sailor. Rime is an archaic spelling of rhyme and also refers to a particular kind of frost. Both uses make sense in terms of the poem.

Romanticism was a movement in arts and literature that began around the early 1800s and focused on nature rather than civilization and on emotion and imagination rather than reason and strict rules of form.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the longest poem Coleridge ever wrote and the most influential (and studied). It is the source of the expression an albatross around one’s neck and the famously (mis)quoted lines Water, water everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.

Why is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner important?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was first published in Lyrical Ballads, a collection of works by Coleridge and fellow English poet William Wordsworth, who are both credited as leaders of Romanticism. It has remained popular due in part to its strange, supernatural imagery and its many possible interpretations.

The poem begins with the title character, the ancient mariner (an old sailor), cornering a wedding guest to tell him a story (like old sailors do). The guest becomes increasingly uncomfortable but is unable to stop listening. The mariner tells the tale of how he was on a boat that got lost in fog and ice until the appearance of an albatross (a sea bird kind of like a seagull). The crew credits the bird with saving them, but for reasons never given during the poem, the mariner kills it with a crossbow. Apparently that’s bad luck, and the superstitious crew members get angry with the mariner and punish him by hanging the dead bird around his neck. A lot of spooky stuff goes down, and the entire crew—except for the mariner—dies, and their bodies are possessed by ghosts. The mariner is eventually rescued—and that’s where he ends the story, abruptly leaving the stunned wedding guest. (How has this not been the subject of a movie reboot?)

The poem is sometimes as difficult to understand as the story it tells—Coleridge intentionally used words and spellings that were considered archaic even during his time. But that may be part of the reason it continues to be studied and to fascinate people. Two particularly enduring parts of the poem are the image of a dead albatross hanging around a person’s neck—now a symbol of burden—and the water, water everywhere quote, which is often used as an expression meaning that something is abundant but frustratingly can’t be used for some reason (the water was undrinkable because it was ocean water).

Lyrical Ballads is regarded as a highly influential collection that marked the beginning of Romanticism in English literature. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is among the most famous Romantic poems, and it had a big impact on literature, including one pretty direct influence. Author Mary Shelley, who heard Coleridge himself recite it when she was a young girl, specifically referenced the dead albatross in her landmark novel Frankenstein.

Did you know ... ?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was a source of friction between Coleridge and Wordsworth, who were otherwise longtime friends. Wordsworth blamed the poem for the negative reaction to Lyrical Ballads and included criticisms of the poem in later reprintings of the collection.

What are real-life examples of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a strange, captivating poem that is often required reading. Even if you are forced to read it (or listen to it, like that poor wedding guest), it will probably stick with you.

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Quiz yourself!

Which of the following things does NOT happen during The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

A. the mariner shoots an albatross
B. the crew members tie the dead bird around the mariner’s neck
C. spirits possess the dead bodies of the ship’s crew
D. the mariner explains the meaning of his story




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