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Literature / The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one of the most-referenced pieces of Romantic poetry. Ever heard "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink"? Yup, it's from here (although in the original text it's ''nor any drop to drink''). It is a relatively long Narrative Poem about a disaster-prone ship, enclosed in a Framing Device where the sailor who cursed it is describing his travels to a guest at a wedding. It's notable for its religious and naturalistic themes and for having a lot in common with Gothic literature. The poem is divided into 7 sections, each dealing with a different part of the Mariner's journey.

Gustave Doré illustrated it in a beautiful and unforgettable way. Iron Maiden turned it into a 14-minute Filk Song.

Borrows elements from Nautical Folklore. Has its own Referenced By page.



  • Aesop Collateral Damage: The Mariner learning to value life took the death of his entire crew.
  • Afterlife Express: A soul ship.
  • The Annotated Edition: The poem was reprinted with a "gloss" that explains several things.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Coleridge wanted to evoke the feeling of an older age of epic poetry.
  • The Atoner: The Mariner, who wanders the world repeating his story to others as penance for his crime of shooting the albatross.
  • Audience Surrogate: The Wedding-Guest is this. Essentially a blank slate who reacts to the Mariner's tale in much the same way as the reader.
  • Chess with Death: Actually, dice with death: Death and Life-In-Death gamble with dice, and Death wins the crew, while Life-In-Death wins the Mariner, and gives him a Fate Worse than Death.
  • Common Meter: Throughout. If you want to make sure you can never take the poem seriously again, try singing it to "Yankee Doodle". Or the theme from Gilligan's Island.
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  • Dem Bones: DEATH is a skeleton.
  • Did You Die?: After the Mariner describes how everyone on his ship died, the Wedding-Guest interrupts the story with "I fear thee, ancient Mariner!" and has to be reassured that the Mariner did not die.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The Mariner gets one of these after Death loses him to Life-In-Death in a dice game.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: The events of the poem occur because the Mariner kills an albatross. Then again, some critics argue that the albatross is representative of Jesus. Also, Nautical Folklore holds albatrosses to be good omens (perhaps as they often show land is near) and in killing one it was believed you bring on bad luck and misfortune. And even if the Mariner, himself, didn't hold with such a belief, killing a bird that was plainly the source of hope for so many of his shipmates was a rotten thing to do.
  • Footnote Fever: In the second edition, which is the one most commonly reprinted, the poem is accompanied by extensive marginal glosses. These are sometimes referred to as "built-in Cliff's Notes".
  • Flying Dutchman: The Mariner.
  • Framing Device: The Mariner telling his story to Wedding-Guest.
  • Ghost Ship: The ship, which manages to sail without wind and only two passengers (Death and Life-in-Death).
  • Gaia's Revenge: As filtered through the superstitions of sailors.
  • The Grim Reaper: He fails to collect the Mariner's soul, so it instead goes to Life-In-Death
  • Heat Wave: The ship gets stuck in the windless, tropical and hot doldrums. There is a drought along with the heat.
  • Hypocrites: The Mariner's crew start justifying his killing of the albatross; when things start to turn sour, they hang its carcass from his neck. Death promptly shows them the error in their ways.
  • Hope Spot: "I bit my arm, I sucked the blood, And cried, A sail! a sail!"
  • Irony: The "Water, water, everywhere" verse is a famous example of situational irony.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The whole thing literally goes south because the Mariner's ship wound up hitting Antarctica. And then death's ship appears...
  • Nameless Narrative: No one has a name, unless you count Death and Life-In-Death.
  • Ocean Madness: The entire poem is a description of this.
  • The Penance: The Mariner wears the dead albatross around his neck and is compelled to tell his story in order to atone for killing it.
  • Rambling Old Man Monologue: The entire poem apart from the framing device.
  • Redemption in the Rain: The day after the Mariner's curse is lifted, a tremendous rainstorm appears, and he stands in it, gulping down the water, so happy he believes he died and is in paradise.
  • Rule of Three: "There is an Ancient Mariner, and he stoppeth one of three..."
  • Signature Line: "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."
  • Sole Survivor: The Mariner is the only member of his crew to survive.
  • Space Whale Aesop: "Be compassionate towards all creatures and don't go around murdering innocent seabirds, or else you'll wind up stranded in the middle of the ocean, all your friends will die, their corpses will torment you, and when you eventually make it to land you'll be forced to constantly wander the world telling your story instead of being able to live a normal life."

    Or as put by Bruce Dickinson:
  • Superstitious Sailors: The title mariner is cursed for shooting an albatross, which sailors consider bad luck as they are considered good omens and can lead one to land. As a result, he loses his entire crew and is forced to Walk the Earth forever, with the albatross' corpse hanging from his neck.
  • Too Good to Be True and A Glitch in the Matrix: The Mariner points out that there's something wrong with the way the unfamiliar ship is moving towards them, considering there's no wind, no tide and it's coming way too fast.
  • The Undead: Upon paying penance for his crime, the souls of his crew rise from their corpses and sail the Mariner's ship to land before fading away. It is also insinuated that the Mariner has been rendered if not undead then incapable of dying in order to tell his tale to as many as he can.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The Mariner shoots the Albatross for completely unexplained reasons, despite the fact that the bird actually just led them out of the glacial maze.

Alternative Title(s): Rime Of The Ancient Mariner


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