On a surface level the poem explores a violation of nature and the resulting psychological effects on the mariner and on all those who hear him. According to Jerome McGann the poem is like a salvation story. The poem's physical structure is multi-layered text based on Coleridge's interest in Higher Criticism. "Like the Iliad or Paradise Lost or any great historical product, the "Rime" is a work of transhistorical rather than so-called universal significance. This verbal distinction is important because it calls attention to a real one. Like The Divine Comedy or any other poem, the "Rime" is not valued or used always or everywhere or by everyone in the same way or for the same reasons".
George Whalley, in his 1946–47 essay, "The Mariner and the Albatross", suggests that the Ancient Mariner is an autobiographical portrait of Coleridge himself, comparing the mariner's loneliness with Coleridge's own feelings of loneliness expressed in his letters and journals.