Given that most of the words in the poem are spoken by the Mariner, it’s easy to assume that he is the poem’s speaker. However, the matter of the speaker is more complicated. The Mariner is, in fact, a character within a larger narrative frame that has a separate speaker. This speaker acts like a third-person narrator in a novel. In a novel, a third-person narrator is responsible for recounting all the action, and they relate what various characters in the story think and say. This is precisely the function of the speaker in Coleridge’s poem. They communicate the words and actions of the characters, as in this example from early in the poem (lines 9–12):

     He holds him with his skinny hand,
     “There was a ship,” quoth he.
     “Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!”
     Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

We don’t have any information about who this narrator is, nor do we know if or how they are related to the events they recount in the poem. Indeed, the speaker plays such a minimal role in the poem that we might almost not notice their presence, especially after the Mariner takes over the narrative. Only at the poem’s end does the speaker make a significant mark of their own (622–25):

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

These words, which are among the most famous in the poem, belong to the speaker.

In addition to the third-person speaker, it’s important to note another presence that’s responsible for framing the overall poem: the anonymous author of the marginal annotations. It isn’t at all clear who this annotator is or what relationship they have to the poetic text. Did they come upon an ancient manuscript and decide to provide explanatory notes to assist other readers? Or are they the same person who wrote this poem? We can’t possibly know. What we do know, however, is that this author has a scholarly disposition and aims to clarify some of the more obscure and occult elements in the poem. This anonymous scholar has added a great number of annotations, many of which purport to summarize the events being recounted in the poem. Yet the careful reader quickly discerns that this annotator has their own ideas about what’s going on in the poem, and these ideas often exceed the evidence provided by the text itself. To offer just one example, consider lines 263–66:

     The moving Moon went up the sky,
     And no where did abide:
     Softly she was going up,
     And a star or two beside

To these lines, the annotator appends the following lengthy note:

In his loneliness and fixedness he yearneth towards the journeying Moon, and the stars that still sojourn, yet still move onward; and everywhere the blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and their native country and their own natural homes, which they enter unannounced, as lords that are certainly expected and yet there is a silent joy at their arrival.

The annotator clearly goes beyond what’s in the text to add their own ideas about the meaning of the Mariner’s upward gaze at the moon.