The Mariner begins the final part of his tale by describing the Hermit, a pious man who “rears” his “sweet voice” from the small boat approaching the ship. The Mariner then describes the conversation between the Hermit and the Pilot, which he overheard as they approached his ship with wonder. The two 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.
The Hermit presents an alternate view of a Christian. Rather than requiring an undertaking of sin and penance, the Hermit is simply a pious man who presents the Mariner with an opportunity to gain absolution. The Hermit and Pilot are also new voices and new characters in a narrative that has mostly contained only the Mariner’s voice alone.
Suddenly, the Mariner’s ship begins to sink. The water rumbles and whirls and the ship goes down like lead, but the Mariner is saved in the Pilot’s boat. When the boat begins spinning in the whirlpool caused by the sinking ship, the Mariner begins to speak, causing the Pilot, the Pilot’s Boy, and the Hermit to fall into fits and go crazy, since they believed the Mariner to be dead. When the Mariner takes the oars from the boy and saves his own saviors, the Pilot’s Boy remarks that he now knows “The Devil knows how to row.”
The sinking ship provides the final test from nature to the Mariner. Throughout his journey on the ocean he was separated from the natural world, protected by the ship. Facing the peril of being swallowed up by the sea and nature itself, the Mariner by now has learned to accept his fate. He seeks closeness to nature, and were it not for the Pilot and the Hermit, the Mariner would have likely drowned.
Once upon land, the Mariner throws himself at the Hermit and begs for forgiveness and absolution. When the confused Hermit asked him to explain, the Mariner gives the first retelling of his story. Since then, he explains, at random hours “agony returns,” and until he tells his story once again, his heart burns. The Mariner says that he passes from land to land using his “strange power of speech,” always knowing by the face which man he must teach with his tale.
Having survived his final physical task, the Mariner now turns to complete his spiritual journey. Here he first comes into his role of storyteller, which ends up becoming his perpetual state. His urge to tell stories and to save others parallels the poet’s own need to communicate and teach lessons. This cycle of agony and retelling mirrors and replaces the cycle of sin and penance for the Mariner, which has reached as much of a conclusion and absolution as he will be granted. This idea of perpetual penance is a break from traditional Christian allegories, in which the sinner is fully absolved and saved.
At this point, the Mariner refers for the first time to the wedding that has been looming for the entire poem. He hears an outburst from the wedding and claims that he is being called to prayer. However, he also uses the outburst to provide the Wedding Guest with his final, most overt lessons. Much sweeter than a wedding feast, says the Mariner, is gathering for prayer. His final words are a lesson in optimizing prayer: “He prayeth well, who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast. / He prayeth best, who loveth best / All things both great and small,” since God loves us, and God made them all.
The Mariner invokes the mundane at the service of showing how much higher the sublime should be valued. He teaches his final lesson explicitly here: the best way to connect with God and the spiritual world is through the natural world and an appreciation of creation in its entirety and variety. Spirituality, argues the Mariner, is to be valued above all else, and the highest form of spirituality is through a Romantic engagement with nature. Note also that the Mariner ends his story with this overt lesson, and that soon after the poem ends. The poet’s urge, much like the Mariner’s, has been satisfied for the time being.
His tale finished, the Mariner leaves, and the Wedding Guest turns away from the wedding feast. The poem ends with the assertion that the Wedding Guest, now forlorn, has become “a sadder and a wiser man” as a result of the Mariner’s story.
The final lines of the poem are an important assertion of the power that storytelling has to affect change. Evidenced by the Wedding Guest’s transformation into a sadder and wiser person (and his turning away from the wedding he had previously been so eager to attend), stories have the power to guide individuals spiritually and help them reach the understanding required of salvation.