The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Summary of 'The Time of the Ancient Mariner


Coleridge's celebrated poems are not many, but The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is definitely one. The poem has been complimented universally as the triumph of a grand creative genius. The excellence of romantic imagination which forms so much of Coleridge's poetry is nowhere so brightly manifested as in this poem. In the opinion of Mr. Bowra- '' The triumph of The Ancient Mariner is that it presents a series of incredible elements through a method of narration which makes them not only convincing and exciting, but in some sense a criticism of life.'' Swinburne is also eloquent in his compliment to the poem- ''This poem is, beyond the question, one of the supreme triumphs of poetry.''

The poem, of course, deals with a simple theme in a simple manner. But in contains a rich treasury of ennobling thought, flaming imagination and captivating melody. 

The theme of Coleridge's entire narrative is well-suggested in the very argument prefixed to the poem. This clearly indicates that the poem narrates the experiences of an ancient mariner, who cruelly and killed a sea-bird, and was punished for his sin. This very theme, as well described by Bowra, is a myth of guilt and redemption. The mariner killed a friendly and helpful burd, without any reason. He became thereby guilty of a two-fold offence. In the first place, his wanton cruelty was against the sacred law of life and love. In the second place, it was a ruthless negation of the noble ideal of hospitality. 

The theme of the poem also exhibits the element of retributive justice for the wrong deliberately committed. The mariner had to suffer greatly on the wide, wide and thirst and heavily tormented with isolation and supernatural fear. Of course, redemption came for his sin. As he loved God's creature, he was redeemed, but he was not absolutely free from the fearful memory of his sin. What he needed was the confession of his guilt that alone could bring him to relief

''Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.''

Indeed, the poem is a superb and artistic representation of an allegory of sin, suffering and penitence. As an allegory, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has invariably a moral note. This is struck towards the conclusion of the poem in the mariner's great realization, which forms the moral of the poem.

'' He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all.''

This moral is so open and obvious that it may seem even a fault. Coleridge himself admits this fault of his poem. Nevertheless, this moral is not unnatural to Coleridge's narrative nor alienates his theme. This is a part of the poem and a necessary link of its allegorical character.


But, perhaps, the most fascinating element in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the enchantment created by the poet by the employment of his supernatural in a manner, unique and typically his own. The poet has treated the entire experience of the old mariner, which looks definitely ghastly and unreal, in such a way as to make the whole tale credible and convincing. The entire account may well be rationalised as the fearful vision of the emotionally excited and exhausted one- the ancient mariner.