The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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The Sun and Moon Symbol Analysis

The Sun and Moon Symbol Icon

The Sun and Moon symbolize the competing influences on the Mariner’s journey and on the world. The two compete with each other, at times embodying the forces of both the natural and supernatural world. The sun is associated with blood, heat, dryness, and the thirst that ultimately kills the Sailors. It symbolizes both the majesty and the terror of the vast natural world, as it is described with sublime beauty and is also used to tell which direction the ship is traveling. The moon, as it is responsible for shaping the tides, symbolizes the supernatural and divine influences on nature. We can note that the ghostly ship of Death and Life-in-Death is superimposed over the sun, before the sun sets and is replaced by the moon. It is then by moonlight that the next stage of penance and the Mariner’s spiritual awakening take place. But it is this cyclic process and competition between the sun and moon that, together, symbolizes the unity of God’s creation, divine influence, and the cyclic process of sin, penance, and absolution that Christians experience.

The Sun and Moon Quotes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The The Rime of the Ancient Mariner quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Sun and Moon. 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 III Quotes

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.

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Part IV Quotes

O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware,

The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Albatross, Eyes, The Sun and Moon
Page Number: 282-291
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Mariner is cursed by the dead eyes of the Sailors (for an entire week), the moon rises higher in the sky. In the moonlight, the Mariner observes radiant water snakes swimming beside the ship. At their sight, he comes to the central spiritual realization of the poem. He exclaims with joy that these are happy creatures, beautiful beyond words, and he becomes possessed with love for them and a desire to bless them. He has come to appreciate nature in a Romantic and spiritual mindset, the key lesson he ultimately hopes to impart (as opposed to his earlier hatred of the “slimy creatures” living in the water around the ship).

Once he makes this realization (which is enabled both by the moonlight and the communicative power of his eyes), the Mariner is able to pray once more. The lapse in communication with God has been repaired by, finally, a proper approach to nature and the sublime: respect, reverence, and appreciation. With this attitude the Mariner turns back to prayer, and the Albatross slips off his neck, signifying that (for the moment) he has been absolved of his sin.

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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The Sun and Moon Symbol Timeline in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Sun and Moon 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
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
...into the sea and sailed southward—he indicates the direction by describing the path of the sun. When merry sounds are heard from the wedding feast, the Wedding Guest once more tries... (full context)
Part II
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
...and the sea becomes extremely 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... (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
...ship, creating a “dungeon-grate,” barred effect as it passes in front of the red setting sun. (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
After Life-in-Death announces her victory, the sun sets and the moon rises. In the moonlight, one by one each of the Sailors... (full context)
Part IV
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
Following this weeklong dead-eyed curse, the Mariner comes to his great realization. In the moonlight, while the ship’s shadow remains an “awful red,” the Mariner watches beautiful water snakes glistening... (full context)
Part V
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
...the wind begin to rage and nature and supernatural spirits begin to act out. The moon is in the sky and a huge black cloud pours out rain; the natural world... (full context)
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
The Mariner then describes how when the night ended and the sun rose, the angels too rose out of the bodies of the Sailors and flew around,... (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
The First Voice and Second Voice briefly continue their conversation, explaining that the moon and sea are working together to navigate and transport the ship. They then fly away,... (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
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,... (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
...and prays to God that he isn’t dreaming and truly has returned home. Still in moonlight, and now in the beautiful familiarity of his home bay, the Mariner sees the angels... (full context)