At hearing that all the Sailors died, the Wedding Guest interrupts the story, afraid that the Mariner, too, perished that day and is telling the story as a sort of zombie or ghost. But the Mariner reassures him that his body didn’t drop like all the others; he alone remained alive.
Again, the Wedding Guest momentarily draws readers back to civilization, placing greater emphasis on the terror of the sublime experiences the Mariner describes. The Mariner assures the Guest that he himself is still alive, as one of the most important aspects of his journey is that he lives to tell the tale.
As the Mariner returns to his story, this solitude becomes a terrible part of the penance he must pay. Alone on the sea, he feels that he has no pity from saints, and he is caught between the horrifying ocean and the dead bodies that surround him. The Mariner at this moment hates 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.
The solitude and stillness the Mariner felt while the Sailors were still alive is compounded and made more extreme. These moments are saturated with horror, and nature seems to the Mariner no more friendly than the corpses at his feet. Again, he cannot recognize the beauty and value of the slimy things that live in the water, and he is rendered unable to pray.
After closing his eyes in an attempt to escape his punishment, the Mariner finds that he is still being cursed by the look in the dead men’s eyes. He notes that the dead bodies do not decay, and their cursing gaze is held for a week. But even after this week, the Mariner still cannot die.
Eyes offer communication where other forms fail, and their power is such that the Mariner can’t even escape his punishment by shutting his eyes; he simply keeps seeing. The power of the dead men’s eyes seems to transcend life and death, as they curse him even as corpses.
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 and swimming beside the ship. At their sight he exclaims, “O happy living things!” The Mariner cherishes, praises, and blesses the beauty of these creatures, and as a result he believes his saint begins to take pity on him. Finally, he is able to pray, and at this moment the Albatross slips off his neck and into the sea.
In this crucial moment the Mariner is able to reconcile the natural and the supernatural worlds, and recognize them as interrelated, holy expressions of the spiritual. The moonlight, which illuminated much of his penance, now enables him to finally see the once “slimy” water snakes as they were intended: beautiful, happy, created beings. This realization and embrace of the Romantic attitude allows the Mariner to pray, and to be in part absolved of his sin, as the Albatross naturally slips off his neck and returns to the natural world and the mysterious depths of the sea.