Many read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as containing explicit Christian allegory. Despite the fact that Coleridge himself said that the poem had no explicit moral, such a reading is difficult to ignore given the overt Christian lesson that the Mariner teaches at the end of the poem. He says that he takes immense joy in prayer, and instructs an appreciation and respect for God, God’s creatures, and all of nature. Further, his killing of the Albatross, a great sin and crime, can be seen as an allegorical representation of one or more Christian stories. The sin can be a parallel to Adam and Eve’s original sin, where the act of killing the bird instigates a break with nature, bringing the Mariner out of harmony with the natural world and causing punishment akin to the Fall of man. More obvious is the parallel to Judas’ betrayal of Christ, in which the albatross is a symbol for Christ and the Mariner’s sin is a betrayal. This parallel can be drawn with both Judas’ betrayal, and the proverbial sinner’s betrayal in committing any sin. The Judas allegory is strengthened by the fact that the Mariner is then forced to wear the albatross in place of a traditional cross around his neck.
However, the text is not quite so neat as to allow for only a straightforward, Christian allegorical reading. The supernatural elements and the Mariner’s own path through sin and penance break the typical mold of a Christian allegory, and the poem also contains various pagan elements that exist side-by-side with Christian ideas. Ultimately, it might be more fruitful to view the poem not as a Christian allegory, but as encompassing Christian symbols as part of an effort to portray a universal whole that at once includes the truths of Christianity, but is not solely limited to those truths or the particularly Christian way of seeing those truths. Nonetheless, recognizing the way that the poem captures and fuses multiple aspects of Christian symbolism can help as a lens to think about it.
Christian Allegory ThemeTracker
Christian Allegory Quotes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
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!
'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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.