Other symbols and many of the themes in the poem exert their presence through the eyes. Firstly, the Mariner holds the Wedding Guest with his story, but also with his “glittering eye.” The eye then symbolizes both a means of control and a means of communication, which makes sense given the spellbinding power of storytelling in the poem. When words fail, humans communicate through their eyes. This point is also exemplified by the silent curses the Sailors give the Mariner when they are too thirsty to speak. This form of communication is powerful, direct, and primal, and it is also continued and pushed into the realm of the supernatural and sublime when the communicative gaze continues even after the sailors’ deaths.
But eyes do not only symbolize a means of primal, ineffably communication between humans. They also symbolize the means of communication between humans and the natural world, and through it, God. It is through the eyes that we observe God’s creatures, nature, and the sublime: the Mariner observes the Albatross, the Sun and Moon, the sublime, and the rest of the natural world with the power of sight. Some of the most terrifying moments of the poem are given through the means of sight and the eyes, for example, when the Mariner spies a ship and realizes its skeletal, ghostly nature as it approaches. The communication signified here is indicating that penance or punishment is coming, but the communication that the eye symbolizes and enables can also carry a message of salvation, as it is the sight of the radiant beauty of the swimming snakes that allows the Mariner to realize his error.
In another way, then, the eye can symbolize the limitations of the poem and of storytelling itself. The Mariner (and through him Coleridge) can use words to communicate the glory of God and the beauty of the world, but this communication will always be indirect. By seeing, we can take one step closer to God, to an appreciation of the sublime in nature, and to understanding for ourselves the lessons which the poem seeks to impart.
Eyes Quotes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.
The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.