The Rime of The Ancient Mariner by T. S. Coleridge - Story of Crime & Punishment? Students' Notes

There are several sub-themes in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,' relating to Christianity and the supernatural, and two primary themes. The first primary theme concerns the potential consequences of a single unthinking act. When the mariner shoots an albatross, he does it casually and without animosity. Yet this impulsive, destructive act is his undoing. Similar to other Romantics, Coleridge believed that the seeds of destruction and creation are contained each within the other. One cannot create something without destroying something else. Likewise, destruction leads to the creation of something new. The loss of the mariner's ship, shipmates, and his own former self ultimately leads to the regeneration of the mariner. The Ancient Mariner is a story of crime and punishment. It falls into seven sections, each telling of a new stage in the process. The first section tells of the actual crime. To us the shooting of the bird may seem a matter of little moment but Coleridge makes it significant in two ways: firstly, he does not say why the Mariner kills the albatross. There is essential irrationality of the Mariner crime. Secondly, the crime is against nature, against the sanctified relations of guest and host the bird which has been hailed in God’s name as if it had been a Christian soul, and is entirely friendly and helpful is wantonly and recklessly killed.

In tracing out the story day by day, pupils should be introduced to the helpful process of outline-making. Such training helps them to recognize essentials, to detect the relative value of details, and to summarize. There should be much blackboard work in outlining, and, for the mental training, pupils should be encouraged to crystallize the classic in outline form, synopsis, or summary. The following outline, for instance, can be worked out, day by day, by a reader:

Lines 1-20. Mariner detains wedding-guest.
21-30. Prosperous start from port.
81-40. Guest hears music, but must stay.
41-62. Ship drawn by storms to South Pole, through ice and awful sounds.
63-78. Albatross for nine days bird of good omen; ship turns north.
79-82. Mariner kills the bird.

Lines 83- 90. Going north without the bird.
91- 96. Companions condemn at first.
97-105. Fair weather; companions approve, therefore are like accomplices.
107-118. Ship is becalmed at equator.
119-130. Suffering; albatross begins to be revenged.
131-138. Spirit follows under the ship.
139-142. Companions then turn, hang bird around mariner's neck as punishment.

Lines 143-153. Mariner sees something afar.
154-163. Hails phantom ship.
164-166. Flash of joy.
167-186. Description of phantom ship.
187-202. Specter-woman, Life-in-death, throws dice and wins the mariner from death. Remorse gets him.
203-211. Effect in moonlight.
212-223. Companions curse him and die. Remorse begins to work.
Lines 224-231. Guest fears mariner is a ghost.
232-252. Despises creature of the deep.
53-262. Dead men's curses haunt him.
263-281. In the moonlight he watches the creatures of the deep.
282-287. Sees their beauty and suddenly can love them.
288-291. When hatred, turns to sympathy, the albatross drops from his neck.
Lines 292-300. Sleep and dreams.
301-308. Rain.
309-326. Wind and storm.
327-344. Ship moves, manned by spirits of the deep.
345-349. Guest's fears.
350-366. Troops of angelic spirits and sounds.
367-380. Polar spirit makes ship go quietly.
381-392. Ship starts suddenly, after stopping 'at the equator; mariner faints.
393^09. Two voices say that he has done penance
Lines 410-429. Supernatural power moves ship while mariner is in a trance.
430-441. Penance and curse renewed.
442-451. Crime expiated.
452-463. Wind blows ship.
464-485. Home again in harbor.
486-499. Departure of seraphs from dead men.
500-513. Coming of hermit, boy, and pilot to shrive.
Lines 514-541. Boat comes to save.
542-559. Ship sinks; mariner is saved.
560-573. Rowing to land. Effect on rescuers.
574-581. Asks to be shriven, but must tell tale at intervals.
582-590. Penalty, to travel and tell his story.
591-609. Hearing sounds from wedding, he compares his former
desolation with social and religious pleasures.
610-617. Mariner's final advice: love animals.
618-625. Guest feels the lesson.

 In the second section, the Mariner begins to suffer punishment for what he has done. Next in section-III shows how the guilty soul becomes conscious of what it has done and of its isolation in the world. The same sense of solitude is elaborated in the sec-IV. The fifth section continues the process of the soul’s revival. In the Sec-VI, the process of healing seems to be impeded. Haunted by memories and tears, the Mariner is a symbol of remorse. The last section, the end comes. The guilty Mariner says of his ‘life-in-Death’ as, “And till my ghastly tale is told,
                        My heart within me burns.”

 The poem is a myth of a guilty, soul and marks in clear stages the passage from crime through punishment to such redemption as is possible in this world. The mariner's shipmates are innocent victims of his rash act. Like the members of the wedding party, the sailors are purposefully kept vague and undeveloped; for Coleridge's intent is that the audience focuses their full attention on the plight of the mariner. 

Supernatural beings appear in the poem as symbolic or allegorical figures, representing the forces of nature, life, death, and retribution. The mariner confronts these figures and must ultimately appease them in order to obtain his salvation.