The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Summary and Analysis of Part 5

After praying, the Ancient Mariner thanked the Virgin Mary for finally allowing him to sleep. He dreamed that the buckets on the ship were filled with dew, and awoke to the sound of the falling rain. He drank and drank after so many days of thirst, and became so lightheaded that he thought he was a ghost. Suddenly he heard a loud wind far off, and the sky lit up with darting "fire-flags" that could be interpreted as lightning, aurora borealis, or "St. Elmo's Fire" (electricity visible in the atmosphere that sailors consider a sign of bad luck). The rain poured from a single cloud, as did an unbroken stream of lightning. The ship began to sail, although there was still no wind. Just then, all the dead men stood up and went about their jobs as a mute, ghostly crew.

The Wedding Guest proclaims again: "I fear thee, Ancient Mariner!" but the Ancient Mariner quickly assures him that the dead sailors were not evil. At dawn, they even gathered around the mast and sang so beautifully that they sounded like an orchestra. When they stopped singing, the ship's sails sang instead. The ship sailed on miraculously in the absence of wind, moved instead by the spirit that had followed it from the icy world. Once the ship reached the equator and the sun was directly overhead, it stopped moving and the sails stopped singing. Then it began to rock back and forth uneasily until it suddenly jolted, causing the Ancient Mariner to faint. He lay for an indeterminate period of time on the ship's deck, during which he heard two voices. The first voice swore on Christ that he was the man who betrayed the Albatross that loved him, and that the spirit from the icy world also loved the Albatross: "The spirit who bideth by himself / In the land of mist and snow, / He loved the bird that loved the man / Who shot him with his bow." The second voice, softer than the first, declared that the Ancient Mariner would continue to pay for his crime: "The man hath penance done, / And penance more will do."


Until the end of Part 5, it seems as though the Ancient Mariner is redeemed. Not only is he allowed to sleep, but it finally rains, and his thirst is quenched. Since physical drought and thirst have represented the Ancient Mariner's moral depravity up until this point, it is implied that the abundant rain symbolizes his redemption. According to a Christian interpretation, the rain signifies that he is being baptized anew as a righteous servant of Christ who respects God's creatures. Even though terrifying things continue to happen all around him - a storm, lightning, thunder - the Ancient Mariner is awed by them, instead of fearful of them. The natural world is no less forceful or imposing than it was previously, but it is now benevolent. Part 5 also sees an end to the Ancient Mariner's loneliness, as the sailors 'awaken' to sail the ship; they and the ship itself sing beautiful music, and some spiritual force moves the ship along its course even though the air is still. Again, only when the ship crosses a boundary - the equator - does confusion return; the Ancient Mariner is knocked unconscious, and the reader begins to doubt whether he will actually be redeemed.

The voices confirm that it is indeed a specific spirit punishing the Ancient Mariner. The text's suggestions of sin, baptism, redemption, and other Christian themes shifts towards a more pagan understanding of the story's moral intricacies. A spirit that inhabits the icy world of the "rime" loved the Albatross - perhaps kept it as a pet - and is making the Ancient Mariner pay for murdering it. In the 1817 version of the poem, we are told that the two voices that the Ancient Mariner hears are spirits. Perhaps they are kin to the spirit that is punishing the Ancient Mariner, or are even taking part in his punishment. It is also possible, however, that they, like all of the supernatural elements of the Ancient Mariner's story, are merely figments of his imagination. That Coleridge leaves their identity somewhat open-ended harkens back to Burnet's musings on "invisible Natures"; humans cannot classify spirits, and therefore cannot really know them. Likewise, the Ancient Mariner - and the reader - cannot define what kind of spirits are speaking, or if they are indeed spirits at all. Burnet's statements are applicable to all humans. Furthermore, the reader is as subject to Coleridge's whims as his protagonist, and therefore cannot know any more than him. As humans - and therefore sinners - we can all identify with the Ancient Mariner, and are thus equally implicated in his crime.