“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1798)
Read the poem from start to finish without stopping, then come back and answer the questions as you re-read the poem.
1. There are two time frames in the poem: first the dramatic time of
the story itself, but the poem also takes place in the ‘present’ time
as the Mariner tells his story to a specific listener. Consider first
the reasons why the Mariner tells his tale to the listener.
|- What is the specific situation in which the story is told? Who is the listener?
- Why does the Mariner feel compelled to tell his tale to this particular person?
- How many times has the Mariner felt the need to re-tell his tale?
- What is his message? What warning does he bring?
2. The story itself:
Describe the world into which the boat is driven by the storm. How is
it different from the normal world? (Think about how Homer uses the
same device in The Odyssey.)
- Why does Coleridge use the margin notes to comment on the action?
- What do the sailors think of the albatross, the strange bird that
sails into this world of ice?
- Why does the Mariner kill the albatross? (l.80) (Is there any
indication in the text of motive?) (What vision of man in his natural
state is suggested by Coleridge’s depiction of “motiveless malignity”?)
|- Describe how Coleridge draws us gradually into a supernatural world after the murder of the albatross.
- What force drives the ship forward even though it moves through utterly calm seas? (l.131)
Describe the strange ship that draws near the boat. How does the
Mariner find the words to call out news of the Spirit Ship’s approach?
(l.160) What happens to everyone on-board except the Mariner?
Look carefully at the moment at the end of Part Four when the Mariner
blesses the water-snakes.(l.275) How is this moment similar to the
shooting of the albatross? Why does the poem not end with this moment
|- What makes it possible for the boat to return to the normal world?
|- What happens to the boat as it enters home harbor?
- What final advice does the Mariner give the listener at the poem’s end?
|1. The Frame:
does the Mariner come to this specific place and confront this
- Why does he need to tell his story again and again?
2. The Story:
|- How does the action of the story teach us Coleridge’s religious beliefs?
- Evil is an innate human
characteristic which issues from a source deep within our psyche.
- Expiation of sin issues from the
same place and can only be achieved through an arduous spiritual
- Guilt cannot be wholly expunged
and confession needs to be enacted again and again.
3. Ballad Music
| How does the sound of the poem, its music, contribute to its meaning?
- It evokes a hypnotic, trance state
with its driving rhythm, strange diction, sing-song rhyme, and
dreamlike natural imagery.
- In this state the reader can reach
past the intellect and access the unconscious where the essential moral
struggle takes place that forms our character.
4. What makes the poem Romantic?
reader discovers truth through imaginative interpretation of poetry,
not through inductive or deductive reasoning.
- By interpreting symbol and responding to
the music of a poem, the reader is allowed to participate in its
- The poem gives the reader the
opportunity to experience a moral journey. As Kant explained, our only
way to understand the truth and see God is through moral experience.
- The poem’s simple form and diction allow
any reader, not just a member of an intellectual elite, to access the
truth. (Romantic Poetry is democratic, the poetry of the common man.)
choice to reach back into the roots of English literature for the
poem’s form and content affirms a national folk identity which has
evolved through the centuries, not some universal, cosmopolitan vision
of identity as conceived by the Enlightenment philosophes.