The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Symbolism


In this essay, I will be examining some of the symbols in Samuel Taylor Coleridge?s poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Symbols were very important in this poem. Without the symbols, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" would be simply a poem about an old mariner who is telling a story about killing a bird to a guest at a wedding. Of course, anyone who reads the poem can see that there is more to it than just a simple telling of a story.
The first symbol in the poem is the wedding that the guest and the Mariner are at. This is a highly significant detail, because Coleridge could have made the story telling take place at any setting, but he chose a wedding. Why? A wedding is a very religious, very happy occasion. Weddings in and of themselves symbolize new beginnings and happiness. The reason that Coleridge decided to have this horrid tale told at a wedding could be for any number of reasons. I feel that the setting was chosen because of the new beginnings implied. As the Mariner tells his tale, the guest is held captive and when the story is done, the guest becomes essentially a new man and goes off to live the rest of his life. Had the tale taken place at a funeral, the heavy feeling of ending would have destroyed the symbolism of new beginnings. Ending of life, of happiness, of everything. If this had happened, then the fact that he rose the next day would not have been as significant. Therefore, the wedding is a very important symbol throughout the poem.
The albatross is another significant symbol throughout the poem. It first appears in the first section of the poem, and it is a symbol of good omen for the sailors. The albatross is a white bird, which is probably the reason why many Christians of the time saw it as a holy symbol, which made it a good omen. In this poem, the albatross symbolizes good fortune. When the Mariner kills the albatross, for absolutely no reason, the good fortune that has come upon the ship leaves. Symbolically, the Mariner did not kill a simple seabird, but an omen of good fortune and luck, which is why all of the bad things happen to the sailors and the Mariner. The albatross goes from being a symbol of god fortune to one of guilt when it is hung around the Mariner?s neck as a sign of what he has done.
"Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung."
(ln. 142-43)
This macabre symbol of the Mariner?s guilt stays around his neck, a morbid weight around his neck until he can pray. This fact is a symbol of religion for the Mariner. The guilt of wronging one of God?s creatures hangs around the Mariner?s neck, making weary and unable to pray. The Mariner views the sea snakes as "slimy things ? upon the slimy sea." (ln. 125-26) Only when the Mariner realizes the beauty of God?s creatures and what he has done does the weight of the albatross and his guilt fall away. At this time, the Mariner is able to pray. The albatross is a symbol used throughout the poem, though it is only mentioned by name during the beginning part of the poem.
In Part 3, after the albatross was hung around the neck of the Mariner, the good fortune has left the ship, and all of the sailors are starving and dehydrated. The Mariner, starving and dehydrated also, notices a shape in the distance, and realizes that it is a ship. Now, the Mariner and the sailors are so dehydrated that they cannot speak, so the Mariner bites his arm and sucks the blood in order to call out to his fellows.
"I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! A sail!"
(ln. 160-1)
This is very significant in that the Mariner is drinking not water to slake his thirst, but blood. The blood is his own life, his essence, and he takes it into himself in order to herald the coming ship. Now, this symbol of the Mariner taking his own life and essence into himself to announce the ship is an ironic symbol. As the Mariner is the only one who sees it at