The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Original Title: The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere
Written by: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Central Theme: Respect for living things
Synopsis: An old sailor describes what happened to him and his ship after he killed an albatross.
First published: 1798
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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is probably one of the most-referenced pieces of Romantic poetry. Ever heard "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink"? Yup, it's from here (although in the original text it's nor any drop to drink). It is a relatively long Narrative Poem about a disaster-prone ship, enclosed in a Framing Device where the sailor who cursed it is describing his travels to a guest outside a wedding. It's notable for its religious and naturalistic themes and for having a lot in common with Gothic literature. The poem is divided into 7 sections, each dealing with a different part of the Mariner's journey.

Tropes used in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner include:
  • Afterlife Express: A soul ship.
  • The Annotated Edition: The poem was reprinted with a "gloss" that explains several things.
  • The Atoner: The Mariner, who wanders the world repeating his story to others as penance for his crime of shooting the albatross.
  • Audience Surrogate: The Wedding-Guest is this. Essentially a blank slate who reacts to the Mariner's tale in much the same way as the reader.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: It's "nor any drop to drink", not "and not a drop to drink".
  • Blondes Are Evil: Life-in-Death has "locks [as] yellow as gold"
  • Chess with Death: Actually, dice with death: Death and Life-In-Death gamble with dice, and Death wins the crew, while Life-In-Death wins the Mariner, and gives him a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Common Meter: Throughout. If you want to make sure you can never take the poem seriously again, try singing it to "Yankee Doodle". Or the theme from Gilligan's Island.
  • Did You Die?: After the Mariner describes how everyone on his ship died, the Wedding-Guest interrupts the story with "I fear thee, ancient Mariner!" and has to be reassured that the Mariner did not die.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The events of the poem occur because the Mariner kills an albatross.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Ancient Mariner and the Wedding-Guest.
    • Also the Pilot, his Son, Death, Life-in-Death, and in fact nearly every if not every named character.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: The Mariner gets one of these after Death loses him to Life-In-Death in a dice game.
  • Faux Symbolism: The Pilot's boat is steered by His Son at one point. As in, the boat that frees us from our sins is piloted by the Son.
  • Footnote Fever: In the second edition, which is the one most commonly reprinted, the poem is accompanied by extensive marginal glosses. These are sometimes referred to as "built-in Cliff's Notes".
  • Fridge Brilliance: The Mariner speaks in such an archaic dialect because he never kept up with English. Keep in mind he's immortal, and wanders the earth.
  • Flying Dutchman: The Mariner.
  • Framing Device: The Mariner telling his story to Wedding-Guest.
  • The Grim Reaper: He fails to collect the Mariner's soul, so it instead goes to Life-In-Death.
  • The Hermit: When the Mariner finally returns from his voyage, he begs the local religious hermit to shrive him.
  • Hope Spot: "I bit my arm, I sucked the blood, And cried, A sail! a sail!"
  • Irony: The "Water, water, everywhere" verse is a famous example of situational irony.
  • Narrative Poem
  • Nautical Folklore: Borrows elements of this.
  • Ocean Madness: The entire poem is a description of this.
  • Omniglot: The Mariner claims to "have strange power of speech" that allows him to talk to anyone who needs to hear his story.
  • The Penance: The Mariner wears the dead albatross around his neck and is compelled to tell his story in order to atone for killing it.
  • Redemption in the Rain: The day after the Mariner's curse is lifted, a tremendous rainstorm appears, and he stands in it, gulping down the water, so happy he believes he died and is in paradise.
  • Rule of Three: "There is an Ancient Mariner, and he stoppeth one of three..."
  • Signature Line: "Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink."
  • Sole Survivor: The Mariner is the only member of his crew to survive.
  • Space Whale Aesop: "Be compassionate towards all creatures and don't go around murdering innocent seabirds, or else you'll wind up stranded in the middle of the ocean, all your friends will die, their corpses will torment you, and when you eventually make it to land you'll be forced to constantly wander the world telling your story instead of being able to live a normal life."
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The Mariner shoots the Albatross for completely unexplained reasons, despite the fact that the bird actually just lead them out of the glacial maze.
References to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner include:


"I am going to unexplored regions, to 'the land of mist and snow'; but I shall kill no albatross; therefore do not be alarmed for my safety or if I should come back to you as worn and woeful as the 'Ancient Mariner.'"

Live-Action TV

  • Serenity has an extended comparison between River and the albatross.

Mal: Yes, I've read a poem. Try not to faint.


Video Games

  • Rather stealthily in Golden Sun: The Lost Age, where you find a Djinni named Rime in the older part of Lemuria... home of the ancient mariner Piers.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • An old sailor tries to gull the Scotsman into hearing the story in Samurai Jack.