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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge has invited speculation as to its meaning ever since it first appeared in 1798. The story is cast in the form of a frame narrative: An old sailor, the Mariner, stops a Wedding Guest to tell him of his story. Although the guest does not wish to hear the "greybearded loon," the uncanny eyes of the Mariner hold the Wedding Guest fixed to the spot. The Latin preface written in prose by Thomas Burnet gives the whole ballad a deeper insight. Burnet says he finds it "easy to believe that there are more invisible than visible things in the universe." And, in fact, the Wedding Guest learns from the Mariner about things beyond the visible. He already knows about the relationship between man and man because that is the reason for attending a wedding, to affirm two people who are making that commitment. But from the Mariner the Wedding Guest learns about the relationship between the seen and the unseen.

The narrative does not progress very far before the Wedding Guest senses something unnatural about the mariner. Solely the appearance of the Mariner testifies to something strange. The Mariner holds the Wedding Guest with his "skinny hand" and "glittering eye" ( I,9,13 ). The Wedding Guest wants to honor his friends who will shortly marry and has no desire to be detained by the Mariner. However, the Mariner sees the Wedding Guest as a person to whom he absolutely must tell his tale to. Coleridge's choice of words helps to describe the Mariner further. When the Mariner begins to tell his tale, it is apparent that he is old as revealed by the words that are from before the readers' time. Words such as "gossameres," "rood," and "tod" give character to the Mariner. The Mariner's superstitious ways show that he has the way of an old sailor. He has been at sea many times, but had never seen what he saw on his last journey. As the Mariner begins his tale, the Wedding Guest hears the music of the wedding. The Wedding Guest knows he does not have much time to get to the wedding, but the Mariner keeps on telling his story.

A few days out to sea the Mariner and the crew suffer from a storm which blows them off course. There is snow and ice everywhere. "And through the drifts the snowy clifts/Did send a dismal sheen:/Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken-/ The ice was all between" ( I,55-58 ). Suddenly, an Albatross flies through the fog. This is unusual because there is no land anywhere. The Albatross would have had to be flying for quite some time. The crew sees it as a good omen and "hailed it in God's name" ( I,66 ). The Albatross brings with it a south wind that begins to blow the ship back onto its course. Then, the Mariner shoots the Albatross. The rest of the crew fears for him because he has shot something that brought luck to them. Suddenly the fog begins to lift and the sun comes out. The ship's crew now finds good in the shooting of the Albatross and they praise the Ancient Mariner. "But when the fog cleared off, they justify the same, and thus make themselves accomplices in the crime" (from Coleridge's notes). By shooting the Albatross,

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