The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

what happens to the mariners shipmates after the appearance of the specter woman and her death mate, what might this symbolize about the effect of guilt on an individual's perceptions of and relations with others


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The ship came near enough for the Ancient Mariner to see who manned it: Death, embodied in a naked man, and The Night-mare Life-in-Death, embodied in a naked woman. The latter was eerily beautiful, with red lips, golden hair, and skin "as white as leprosy." Death and Life-in-Death were gambling with dice for the Ancient Mariner's soul, and Life-in-Death won. She whistled three times just as the last of the sun sank into the ocean; night fell in an instant, and the ghost ship sped away, though its crew's whispers could be heard long after it was out of sight. The crescent moon rose above the ship with "one bright star" just inside its bottom rim, and all at once, the sailors turned towards the Ancient Mariner and cursed him with their eyes. Then all two hundred of them dropped dead without a sound. The Ancient Mariner watched each sailor's soul zoom out of his body like the arrow he shot at the Albatross: "And every soul, it passed me by, / Like the whiz of my cross-bow!"

The ghost ship is separate from the natural world - it sails without wind, and its inhabitants are spirits. Death and Life-in-Death are allegorical figures who become frighteningly real for the sailors, especially the Ancient Mariner, whose soul Life-in-Death "wins", thereby dooming him to a fate worse than death. Even those sailors whose souls go to hell seem freer than the Ancient Mariner; while their souls fly unencumbered out of their bodies, he is destined to be trapped in his indefinitely - a living hell.

Life-in-Death, who takes on the form of an alluring naked woman, represents perpetual temptation. Because she wins the Ancient Mariner's soul, he is doomed to die only when he has paid his due...perhaps never. As we learn later, the Ancient Mariner is cursed to continually feel the agonizing compulsion to tell his tale to others; although telling the tale allows him temporary relief, he may never be free. First, he and the sailors are denied the satisfaction of drinking; now the Ancient Mariner will be denied the satisfaction of being able to die. His spirit is trapped in his own body, in an excruciating state of limbo - the realm of Life-in-Death. His "glittering eye" suggests more than madness; it is also a synecdoche representing his soul, which longs to be released from living death. It yearns to fly out of his body like the two hundred other sailors' souls did. In fact, when the sailors' souls are released, they fly past the Ancient Mariner with the same sound as the arrow he shot at the Albatross. Initially, the Ancient Mariner is relieved to have survived his shipmates, but in retrospect the sound tantalizes him, as it reminds him that his impulsive sin is the reason for his torture.