The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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The Sailors are the nameless crewmembers that accompany the Mariner on his journey. The sailors are a strange case in the poem; they do not commit any sin as terrible as that of the Mariner’s shooting of the albatross, and yet they seem to be punished more horribly. The sailors in fact consider the albatross to be a good omen, and they curse the Mariner at first after he kills it. However, when in the moments after the death of the albatross dies, the wind does not abate and the fog lifts, the crew changes its mind, and says the Mariner was right to kill it. It may be that the crew’s fatal punishment arises from this change of mind, its lack of faith in its earlier (apparently correct) assessment of the albatross, or just in the weakness of its condemnation of the narrator. Or perhaps the sailors are just collateral damage in the Mariner’s own punishment. Regardless, as the ship becomes becalmed after the death of the albatross, they first become utterly dehydrated, and then fall dead when Death wins their souls in his gambling game with Life-In-Death. Later, angels eerily reanimate the Sailors, and their corpses aid in the Mariner’s penance. But unlike the Mariner, the sailors are not given life or absolution at the end of the tale, and when the Mariner hears the sailors’ souls leaving their bodies upon their deaths, it’s not at all clear where those souls are going.

Sailors Quotes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The The Rime of the Ancient Mariner quotes below are all either spoken by Sailors or refer to Sailors. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner published in 0.
Part I Quotes

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the fog it came;
As if it had been a Christian soul,
We hailed it in God's name.

It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
And round and round it flew.
The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
The helmsman steered us through!

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), Sailors
Related Symbols: The Albatross
Page Number: 61-70
Explanation and Analysis:

The Mariner’s ship has faced a massive storm and sailed southward to the South Pole to escape. There it floats in mist, fog, and snow amidst ice and glaciers in pristine silence (besides cracking ice) and an absence of life. But the Albatross, which cuts through the surreal lifelessness of the South Pole, is then introduced as a kind of miraculous figure. The bird appears as both a natural and supernatural object, as it materializes through the fog. As soon as it is introduced, it is also associated with God and Christianity, with the Sailors hailing it excitedly as if it were a fellow Christian.

The crew treats the bird as a good omen, giving it the status of supernatural. But by feeding it, they acknowledge its status as a mortal, natural being. Their celebration of the bird, then, is an approximation of the Romantic ideal, even if it is not understood as a spiritual experience. The Sailors appreciate the bird, and the natural world seems to reward them for their recognition, as the ice splits and allows the ship to continue its journey.

We can also note that the Albatross seems to take joy in following and playing with the ship, and benefits from their kindness. The Mariner to suggest that never before has the bird been so plentifully fed: “It ate the food it ne’er had eat.” This mutually beneficial relationship and the apparent benefit to the Albatross makes its death all the more tragic and sinful.

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Part II Quotes

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), Sailors
Related Symbols: The Albatross, Eyes
Page Number: 139-143
Explanation and Analysis:

Though they first justified the Mariner’s decision to kill the Albatross when the fog lifted and the breeze continued, in face of perilous thirst and torturous stillness, the Sailors have turned back against the Mariner. They seek to place the entirety of the blame on the Mariner (whose actions may indeed be the cause of their own downfall), and even want to curse the Mariner, but their thirst is so severe that none of them are able to speak. Thus, as it is explained in the excerpt, they use “evil looks” as the means for communication. The eyes, we see, serve to communicate when words fail or are prevented.

After cursing the Mariner with their eyes, the Sailors hang the Albatross around his neck—a burden for him to bear in place of a cross. In this way, they attempt to put the responsibility of the sin entirely on him, and mark him as a sinner. Such a gesture is one of the aspects of the poem that clearly calls for an interpretation along the lines of Christian allegory. The Albatross as a symbol of Christ is also strengthened by the gesture, as the dead bird on the Mariner replaces Jesus on the Crucifix.

Part III Quotes

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), Sailors, Death , Life-in-Death
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 157-161
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines give some of the most powerful, chilling poetry of the entire work. After the Sailors hang the Albatross around the Mariner’s neck, the ship remains stuck and the crew remains so thirsty that they cannot speak. Under a blood-red sun, the Mariner notices a tiny speck approaching on the horizon. This speck provides a moment of hope for the Mariner and drama in the story, as it is revealed to be a ship, and then a phantom ship carrying Death and Life-in-Death.

Seeing the ship, the Mariner is struck with the common desire to share what he sees—to communicate. But nature (and the supernatural forces surrounding it) has taken his ability to use language. In order to win back the ability to speak, the Mariner must pay an painful price: he bites his arm and drinks his own blood, wetting his mouth enough that he can speak. The consumption of blood seems at first horrifying, but it can also be made to fit within the Christian tradition, as Christians consume the blood of Christ (whether literally or metaphorically, depending on the tradition) through the form of wine when taking the Eucharistic sacrament.

Note that the poetry of these lines underscores the uncanny nature of the incident. The stanza contains five lines, as opposed to the common four or six, and is filled with formal features. We can note, for example, alliteration in “black / baked” and “drought/ dumb” as well as the internal rhyme of “unslaked” and “baked,” which somehow makes the five line stanza flow beautifully. The beauty and poetic craft that Coleridge injects here makes this moment and its description an example of the sublime in and of itself.

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), Sailors, Death , Life-in-Death
Related Symbols: Eyes, The Sun and Moon
Page Number: 212-219
Explanation and Analysis:

The ghostly ship, carrying Death and Life-in-Death, has pulled alongside the Mariner and the crew. The two haunting figures have gambled for the lives of the Sailors and the Mariner; Life-in-Death wins the Mariner, implying that the Sailors are won by Death. The Mariner then must face dire penance through a horrifying experience of life within death. As part of this punishment (and perhaps a punishment for them), the two hundred Sailors one by one curse the Mariner with their eyes, before dying in the moonlight.

The lifeless thumping of the Sailors’ bodies can be seen as a reminder of the danger and power of nature and supernatural beings. We can note that as they die, unable to speak, they are still able to communicate their curses and hatred through their eyes, the primal means of wordless communication that is used throughout the poem. These eyes, we will see below, are able to convey curses even after death.

Part IV Quotes

An orphan's curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high;
But oh! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man's eye!
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), Sailors, Life-in-Death
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 257-262
Explanation and Analysis:

The Sailors have died one by one, and the Mariner here experiences penance through the forms of solitude and horror. To emphasize the terror of being surrounded by these wide-eyed corpses, the Mariner evokes an “orphan’s curse,” which would supposedly have the terrible effect of dragging even a spirit from on high down to hell. “More horrible than that, “ he suggests, is the curse found in a dead man’s eye. We can note that the communicative power of the eye does not cease even in death, existing as an echo of life within death.

This echo is fitting, given the punishment (penance) that Life-in-Death enacts. Surrounded by corpses and death, the Mariner ironically cannot die himself, even over the course of a week. This lingering amidst death brings the Mariner’s isolation and desperation well beyond the experience of being stuck at sea surrounded by a speechless, but still living crew.

Part VI Quotes

This seraph-band, each waved his hand:
It was a heavenly sight!
They stood as signals to the land,
Each one a lovely light;

This seraph-band, each waved his hand,
No voice did they impart –
No voice; but oh! the silence sank
Like music on my heart.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), Sailors, The Lonesome Spirit from the South Pole
Related Symbols: Eyes, The Sun and Moon
Page Number: 492-499
Explanation and Analysis:

After a race homeward, powered by the Lonesome Spirit (who is in turn instructed by angels) the sun rises and the angels leave the Sailors’ bodies. Rather than singing, as they have done before, the seraphs simply wave at the Mariner, putting on a heavenly display to be experienced through the eyes. This display is essentially silent, which, the Mariner suggests, carries its own type of divine music. Furthermore, the lines themselves are musical, as each stanza begins with the same first line and contains strong rhymes and perfected rhythm and meter. Here, the Mariner is so connected with nature and the sublime that he is able to have a direct spiritual experience, without the presence of the lenses that he requires in many other moments.

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Sailors Character Timeline in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The timeline below shows where the character Sailors appears in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part I
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
...great storm, which pushed the ship towards the South Pole. There he and the other Sailors are surrounded by ice, mist, and snow. There is a complete lack of life, but... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
...They feed the bird, which follows them and visits to eat and play, and the Sailors all rejoice at the newly blowing wind (which they attribute to the bird) that allows... (full context)
Part II
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
...he shot the Albatross, the ship began sailing northward. While the winds still blow, the Sailors feel the absence of the bird, and they cry out against the Mariner for his... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
...calm. Below a “hot and copper sky” and “the bloody Sun,” the Mariner and the Sailors become stranded in the ocean without water. Ironically, they are surrounded by water that they... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
So thirsty that they cannot speak, the Sailors all give the Mariner evil looks, seeking to “throw the whole guilt” on him for... (full context)
Part III
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
The Mariner and the Sailors spend a long “weary time” stuck in the state of thirst on the calm sea.... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
The Sailors at first take great joy in the Mariner’s announcement that another ship is approaching, since... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
...sun sets and the moon rises. In the moonlight, one by one each of the Sailors turns to curse the Mariner with their eyes. Then one by one, all two hundred... (full context)
Part IV
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
At hearing that all the Sailors died, the Wedding Guest interrupts the story, afraid that the Mariner, too, perished that day... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
...the slimy sea creatures around him, believing it unfair that they should live while the Sailors are dead. In his anguish he looks to heaven, but finds himself unable to pray. (full context)
Part V
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
...does not reach the ship, which instead is subject to a supernatural phenomenon. The dead Sailors groan, rise up, and, without speaking or moving their eyes, begin working on the ship.... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
...ended and the sun rose, the angels too rose out of the bodies of the Sailors and flew around, singing like birds and playing in a heavenly choir. When the song... (full context)
Part VI
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
Upon their departure, the Mariner wakes under the moonlit sky beside the dead Sailors. For a moment, his penance and the dead-eyed curse returns, and the Mariner becomes unable... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
Christian Allegory Theme Icon
...of his home bay, the Mariner sees the angels leaving the souls of the dead Sailors for good. Rather than singing, he notes that the angels simply wave and offer a... (full context)
Part VII
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
...men view the skeletal ship much in the same way that the Mariner and the Sailors first viewed the ship of Death and Life-in-Death. Undeterred, the small boat continues to approach. (full context)