He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

In lines 13–20, the poem’s third-person speaker describes the ominous conditions that preside as the Mariner begins his narrative. Particularly ominous is the speaker’s emphasis on how the Wedding-Guest “cannot choose but hear” the Mariner’s tale. If the Wedding-Guest has no choice but to listen, it’s because the Mariner has lulled him into a state of hypnosis. Indeed, the phrase “the Mariner hath his will” alludes to a theory known as mesmerism. This theory posits the existence of an invisible magnetic force that may be used to compel someone into a trance-like state. The Mariner’s hypnotic power is ominous, and it initially seems to stem from his “glittering eye.” Arguably, though, it’s not the mysterious Mariner’s “bright” eyes that compel the Wedding-Guest’s attention, but rather his narrative, uttered with his “strange power of speech” (line 587). Regardless, the Mariner’s tale begins on a strange and foreboding note that compels us readers to ask who this man is. Does he have some kind of supernatural ability, or does he simply command the power of storytelling?

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

Lines 63–66 recount the first moment the Mariner and his crew see the albatross. Their initial impulse is to “hail” the bird as if it were a “Christian soul.” This first impulse helps to explain why the Mariner later frames his unwarranted murder of the albatross as a sin. Killing this bird was tantamount to killing a fellow Christian, a sinful act for which the sinner must atone. Take special note of the link between cross and Albatross. The internal rhyme establishes a clear link between them, but they are also linked metaphorically through the symbolic association between Christ and the Cross upon which he was crucified. The Mariner makes this association more explicit at the end of Part 2: “Instead of the cross, the Albatross / About my neck was hung” (lines 141–42). By replacing the cross that would ordinarily hang around a Christian man’s neck, the dead albatross symbolizes the spiritual burden of the Mariner’s sin.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

These lines (248–52) appear in Part 4, when the Mariner recounts what happened after his entire crew suddenly and mysteriously died, cursing him with their eyes as they collapsed on the ship deck. Here, the Mariner closes his own eyes and feels the effects of their curse, which he says had the weight of the entire sea and sky. Aside from the symbolism of the eyes, this passage also showcases the Mariner’s rhetorical sophistication. To begin, the Mariner shows flexibility in his ability to extend stanzas beyond the standard four-line ballad stanza, expanding the usual ABCB rhyme scheme to ABCCB to accommodate the addition. Additionally, the Mariner uses repetition to strong effect, as when he repeats “dead” in the fourth and fifth lines, or when he uses two versions of “close” in the first line. More sophisticated still is the third line, which contains a form of mirrored repetition known as chiasmus: “For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky.” Furthermore, the Mariner slips a simile into the fourth line, where he says the sea and sky “lay dead like a load on my weary eye.” Finally, the Mariner adds sonic texture by featuring alliteration throughout the first four lines.

“O shrieve me, shrieve me, holy man!”
The Hermit crossed his brow.
“Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say—
What manner of man art thou?”

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

In lines 574–81, the Mariner describes the experience he had when he first confessed his story to the holy man known as the Hermit. Soon after encountering this Hermit, the Mariner begs him to “shrieve” him—that is, to hear his confession and grant him absolution. The Mariner’s description of his confession to the Hermit reads as a mirror image of the way his tale captivated the Wedding-Guest at the beginning of the poem. Just as the Wedding-Guest felt overcome by the need to listen to the Mariner’s story, here the Mariner feels overcome by the need to tell it. His account of his sins causes him “a woful agony,” but in the end, he says, “it left me free.” It’s significant to note that though the Mariner had earlier removed the physical albatross from his neck, he still carried the spiritual weight of having murdered it. It’s only through this narrative act that he finally feels spiritually unburdened. He now recounts his tale to the Wedding-Guest as a continuation of this spiritual unburdening.

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

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

This long passage (lines 614–25) concludes the poem, and it showcases how the Mariner and the Wedding-Guest come away from the narrative with different interpretations. For his part, the Mariner interprets his own tale as an allegory about sin and redemption, with the main moral relating to the sanctity of all God’s creatures. Hence his homely aphorism: “He prayeth best, who loveth best / All things both great and small.” For the Wedding-Guest, however, the Mariner’s story has proven deeply unsettling. This young man, who had been plucked from the joyful festivities of a wedding, has likely never heard a story like this. His starts the poem an innocent and perhaps even naïve man. By the end, however, he’s heard not just about this Mariner’s sin and redemption, but also about mysterious spirits that reanimate corpses as well as dice-playing avatars of Death and Life-in-Death. We readers don’t get access to what the Wedding-Guest really thinks about the Mariner’s story. All we know is that he ends the poem in a serious mood that can no longer accommodate the celebrations of the wedding. He therefore decides to go home, “stunned” and “forlorn,” where he rises the next morning “a sadder and a wiser man.”