The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

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The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon
The Mundane and the Sublime Theme Icon
Sin and Penance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Interpretation Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Natural and the Spiritual Theme Icon

Coleridge was one of the founders of the Romantic movement, a literary movement that developed in the early 19th century in response to the Age of Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophy esteemed reason above all else, and flourished in the 18th century, as well as contributed to the budding Industrial Revolution and the ways that growing industry and technology seemed to shift the balance in man’s relationship with nature. Romantics valued emotion over reason, and they glorified and appreciated nature. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner fits into the Romantic tradition. The poem begins at the wedding feast, with the Wedding Guest observing and enjoying a quintessentially civilized setting in which nature is subdued. But when the Ancient Mariner imposes himself on the Wedding Guest and tells his story, the scene (and the Wedding Guest as audience) shift from comfortable civilization into nature, in this case aboard a ship sailing across the globe. Cast into the world, the Mariner must contend with nature in the form of violent storms and the dangerous sea, and he must survive the perils of the natural world. In this light, the Mariner’s killing of the albatross can be seen as an attempt to master nature, to assert the power of man over the power of nature.

But the poem presents nature as more powerful, awe inspiring, and terrifying than man can comprehend. And, further, the poem depicts any attempt to master nature as pointless. Nature is simply too powerful, as is evident when the sudden lack of wind strands the ship in desolate waters, and the Mariner and sailors begin to die of thirst. The poem demonstrates that contending with, merely surviving, or attempting to master nature are the wrong ways for humankind to approach the natural world.

The poem, though, does not only portray nature as a kind of passive elemental force that is too powerful for men to conquer. Instead, the poem conceives of nature as being an expression of the spiritual world. This relationship between nature and the spiritual world explains the terrible and supernatural reaction that the Mariner and his shipmates must face after he kills the albatross. Nature, as the poem has it, is God’s creation, and therefore when a person interacts with nature they also interact with the spiritual world. And so, when the Mariner attempts to master or control nature (such as by killing the albatross), it is an affront not just to nature, but to the spiritual world and to God as well. Harming nature, then, is a moral failing. It is a sin. Such sins lead to punishment, and the punishment comes as a combination of the natural and the spiritual: it is supernatural. This supernatural punishment is expressed when elemental spirits arise and drag or halt the Mariner’s ship, and by the haunting Death and Life-In-Death who harvest human souls.

It is only when the Mariner learns to live with and value the natural world, as he does when he sees the beauty in the Water Snakes that, it seems likely, he previously would have despised, does the punishment against him ease. The poem, then, casts the appreciation and valuing of nature, the act of embracing Romanticism, not just as important in and of itself, but as above all a spiritual, religious necessity.

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The Natural and the Spiritual ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Natural and the Spiritual appears in each Part of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Natural and the Spiritual Quotes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Below you will find the important quotes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner related to the theme of The Natural and the Spiritual.
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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'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! –
Why look'st thou so?'-
With my cross-bow I shot the Albatross.

Related Characters: The Wedding Guest (speaker), The Ancient Mariner
Related Symbols: The Albatross
Page Number: 79-83
Explanation and Analysis:

The Mariner has just introduced the Albatross, which flies around and follows the ship. But suddenly, the Wedding Guest interrupts the story (a masterful storytelling technique on the part of Coleridge) since the Mariner’s face apparently contains some sort of agony. Coleridge here gives us the Wedding Guest’s reaction to the Mariner’s face in order to covey how plagued he is by what information will follow, adding to the building sense of tension and anticipation.

The Mariner then continues in his tale and reveals the sin that will set in motion a series of horrifying experiences as part of his penance: he shot the Albatross with a cross-bow. We can note that the Mariner offers no explanation for why he shot the bird. We can attempt to understand it through various frameworks, however. In one framework, the slaughter can be seen as an effort to assert human mastery over nature. Related is the notion that killing the bird is an attempt to assert the mundane and civilized over what is naturally sublime, a rejection of the Romantic ideal and a denial of what is majestic in nature. And in a third framework, the act of killing the Albatross is seen as an interpretive act, whereby the Mariner gives in to the natural desire of humans to interpret; he cannot reconcile with the Albatross’s ethereal existence across boundaries (natural, supernatural, sublime, mortal, an omen) and so he kills it to force the bird into one category (dead). But ultimately, readers are not given an indication of the Mariner’s motive. Rather, we only see the dire consequences of the act.

Part II Quotes

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), The Lonesome Spirit from the South Pole
Page Number: 115-122
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Mariner kills the Albatross, for a time the wind remains good and the fog dissipates. The crew briefly shifts from cursing the Mariner to justifying his actions. But soon, under influence of the Lonesome Spirit from the South Pole, the breeze dies down and the ship becomes stranded. The Sailors then suffer in the heat, beginning the first stage of the Mariner’s penance. Day after day, the ship remains stuck and still, as if it is merely a ship in a painting.

In this state, the Mariner and the Sailors begin dying of thirst. The second quatrain (four-line stanza) excerpted here plays with the irony of the situation, and also contains one of Coleridge’s most famous (and often misquoted) lines. They are surrounded by water, but since it is seawater, they cannot drink it. This predicament is part of the Mariner’s penance, which is influenced by the supernatural spirits, but it also exhibits some of the sublime terror and beauty of the natural world. The sea is at once compared to a painting and a means of torture and death. Thus while the Mariner doesn’t yet take the correct approach, the poet describes the scene from firmly within the Romantic mindset.

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.

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.

It is the Hermit good!
He singeth loud his godly hymns
That he makes in the wood.
He'll shrieve my soul, he'll wash away
The Albatross's blood.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), Hermit
Related Symbols: The Albatross
Page Number: 508-513
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Pilot, the Pilot’s Boy, and the Hermit approach the Mariner, the Mariner’s ship is sinking. But rather than worrying about the fate of his ship, the Mariner focuses on the Hermit, who presents an example of a good man of God who does not require such trials as the Mariner to maintain the appropriate attitude. Note that the Hermit is connected with nature through the reference to the “wood,” presumably the place he lives.

The Mariner views the Hermit as a means to conclude his journey and bring a final form of penance and absolution, whatever it may be. He hopes the Hermit will “shrieve” him, which is archaic for shrive, which means take confession, apply penance, and absolve. We can note that he hopes the Hermit will wash away the Albatross’s symbolic blood and lift away the guilt of the crime. This suggestion is also complicated by the fact that the Albatross is a symbol for Christ, and Christ’s blood is typically the means of redemption and washing away sin in Christian allegory and doctrine.

Part VII Quotes

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Related Characters: The Ancient Mariner (speaker), The Wedding Guest
Related Symbols: The Albatross
Page Number: 612-617
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines conclude the Mariner’s tale; they contain the explicit lesson that he hopes to impart to the Wedding Guest, and the moral of Coleridge’s story that (despite the poet’s intentions) is difficult to ignore. The Mariner has for the first time acknowledged the wedding ceremony, and the joys therein, but only at the service of saying that devout prayer offers much greater joy.

Here, he explains how to reach the best kind of prayer and spiritual awareness: the best prayers come from those who best love “man and bird and beast.” He continues, employing repetition with slight variation, saying that the best prayers come from those who best love “all things both great and small,” since God loves us, and God made (and loves) everything. Finally, the Mariner seems to understand the correct (Romantic) approach to nature: all of God’s creations on all scales, from birds like the Albatross, to mist, to the vast sun and moon, to the supernatural spirits and beings that interact with and influence the natural world, are deserving of reverence, respect, and pious embrace. Doing so, argues the Mariner, is the best way to connect with and communicate with God.