“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Parts V-VII
The Mariner continues telling his story to the Wedding-Guest. Free of the curse of the Albatross, the Mariner was able to sleep, and as he did so, the rains came, drenching him. The moon broke through the clouds, and a host of spirits entered the dead men’s bodies, which began to move about and perform their old sailors’ tasks. The ship was propelled forward as the Mariner joined in the work. The Wedding-Guest declares again that he is afraid of the Mariner, but the Mariner tells him that the men’s bodies were inhabited by blessed spirits, not cursed souls. At dawn, the bodies clustered around the mast, and sweet sounds rose up from their mouths—the sounds of the spirits leaving their bodies. The spirits flew around the ship, singing. The ship continued to surge forward until noon, driven by the spirit from the land of mist and snow, nine fathoms deep in the sea. At noon, however, the ship stopped, then began to move backward and forward as if it were trapped in a tug of war. Finally, it broke free, and the Mariner fell to the deck with the jolt of sudden acceleration. He heard two disembodied voices in the air; one asked if he was the man who had killed the Albatross, and the other declared softly that he had done penance for his crime and would do more penance before all was rectified.
In dialogue, the two voices discussed the situation. The moon overpowered the sea, they said, and enabled the ship to move; an angelic power moved the ship northward at an astonishingly rapid pace. When the Mariner awoke from his trance, he saw the dead men standing together, looking at him. But a breeze rose up and propelled the ship back to its native country, back to the Mariner’s home; he recognized the kirk, the hill, and the lighthouse. As they neared the bay, seraphs—figures made of pure light—stepped out of the corpses of the sailors, which fell to the deck. Each seraph waved at the Mariner, who was powerfully moved. Soon, he heard the sound of oars; the Pilot, the Pilot’s son, and the holy Hermit were rowing out toward him. The Mariner hoped that the Hermit could shrive (absolve) him of his sin, washing the blood of the Albatross off his soul.
The Hermit, a holy man who lived in the woods and loved to talk to mariners from strange lands, had encouraged the Pilot and his son not to be afraid and to row out to the ship. But as they reached the Mariner’s ship, it sank in a sudden whirlpool, leaving the Mariner afloat and the Pilot’s rowboat spinning in the wake. The Mariner was loaded aboard the Pilot’s ship, and the Pilot’s boy, mad with terror, laughed hysterically and declared that the devil knows how to row. On land, the Mariner begged the Hermit to shrive him, and the Hermit bade the Mariner tell his tale. Once it was told, the Mariner was free from the agony of his guilt. However, the guilt returned over time and persisted until the Mariner traveled to a new place and told his tale again. The moment he comes upon the man to whom he is destined to tell his tale, he knows it, and he has no choice but to relate the story then and there to his appointed audience; the Wedding-Guest is one such person.
The church doors burst open, and the wedding party streams outside. The Mariner declares to the Wedding-Guest that he who loves all God’s creatures leads a happier, better life; he then takes his leave. The Wedding-Guest walks away from the party, stunned, and awakes the next morning “a sadder and a wiser man.”
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is written in loose, short ballad stanzas usually either four or six lines long but occasionally as many as nine lines long. The meter is also somewhat loose, but odd lines are generally tetrameter, while even lines are generally trimeter. (There are exceptions: In a five-line stanza, for instance, lines one, three, and four are likely to have four accented syllables—tetrameter—while lines two and five have three accented syllables.) The rhymes generally alternate in an ABAB or ABABAB scheme, though there are again many exceptions; the nine-line stanza in Part III, for instance, rhymes AABCCBDDB. Many stanzas include couplets in this way—five-line stanzas, for example, are rhymed ABCCB, often with an internal rhyme in the first line, or ABAAB, without the internal rhyme.
This second segment of the “Rime” concludes the Mariner’s narrative; here he meets the host of seraph-like spirits who (rather grotesquely) rescue his ship by entering the corpses of the fallen sailors, and it is here that he earns his moral salvation through his confession to the Hermit and the subsequent confessions he must continue to make throughout his life—including this one, to the Wedding-Guest. This second segment lacks much of the bizarre imagistic intensity found in the first section, and the supernatural powers even begin to seem sympathetic (the submerged spirit from the land of mist and snow is now called “the lonesome spirit” in a side note). The more gruesome elements still surface occasionally, however; the sinking of the ship and the insanity of the Pilot’s son could have come from a dramatic, gritty tale such as Moby- Dick, and the seraphs of the previous scene evoke such fantastical works as Paradise Lost.
The figurative arrangement of this poem is complicated: one speaker pronounces judgments like “A sadder and a wiser man / He rose the morrow morn”; the side notes are presumably written by a scholar, separate from this first speaker; independent of these two voices is the Mariner, whose words make up most of the poem; the Wedding-Guest also speaks directly. Moreover, the various time frames combine rather intricately. Coleridge adds to this complexity at the start of Part VI, when he introduces a short dramatic dialogue to indicate the conversation between the two disembodied voices. This technique, again, influenced later writers, such as Melville, who often used dramatic dialogues in his equally complicated tale of the sea, Moby-Dick. Here in Coleridge’s poem, this dialogue plunges the reader suddenly into the role of the Mariner, hearing the voices around him rather than simply hearing them described. Disorienting techniques such as this one are used throughout the “Rime” to ensure that the poem never becomes too abstract in its interplay between side notes and verse; thus, however theoretical the level of the poem’s operation, its story remains compelling.
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