In the context of the spirituality that pervades the poem, the Mariner’s story can be seen as one of Sin and Penance. In shooting the innocent albatross he commits a sin (against both nature and God, since one is the expression of the other). The Mariner is then punished: he suffers deprivations and horrors until he learns to appreciate and love the natural and supernatural world that the albatross symbolized, and then he is absolved of his crime. Such a story of sin and penance, of punishment and absolution is common across many cultures and belief systems, including Christianity. And yet, at the same time, the poem’s treatment of the story isn’t quite so simple.
For one thing, the Mariner is only partially saved. Once his penance is complete and he learns to appreciate nature, his overtly supernatural torments are ended and he can enjoy the beauty of nature and the blessing of prayer. But, at the same time, he is compelled to continue telling his story indefinitely, or else suffer a kind of agony. There is no indication that he will ever be truly forgiven or absolved of his duty to share his experience, and in a way, this itself is another punishment. And yet, it too can be viewed as a blessing, since through telling his story he is given the gift of being able to save others, as, implied at the end of the poem, he saves the Wedding Guest.
Sin and Penance ThemeTracker
Sin and Penance Quotes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
'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.
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.
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.
'Is it he?' quoth one, 'Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.
Quoth he, 'The man hath penance done,
And penance more will do.'
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.
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.