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Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Stanza 1

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

Paraphrase

An old sailor stops one of the three men who were going to attend a marriage. Two of them escape the old man but the third cannot. He asks the grey-bearded, shining-eyed sailor why he stopped him.

Meaning
  • Rime – Rhyme; poem; frost (Out of these meanings, rhyme seems to be most appropriate. It can also be frost with reference to the frost and ice that the sailors were trapped in.
  • Ancient – Old
  • Mariner – Sailor
  • Stoppeth – Stops
  • One of three – One of the three wedding guests
  • By thy – With your
  • Glittering – Shining
  • Wherefore – Why?
  • Stopp’st – Stops
  • Thou – you
Answers
  1. Describe the ancient mariner?
    The ancient mariner, the old sailor, had very long grey beard and a pair of glittering eyes.
  2. Whom does the ancient mariner stop?
    The ancient mariner stops one of the three wedding guests.

Stanza 2

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

Paraphrase

The wedding hall is ready. All the guests have arrived and the feast is prepared for serving. I am a close relative of the bridegroom. Can’t you hear the music from the wedding hall?

Meaning
  • Bridegroom – The man whose marriage is being held
  • Doors – The door of the wedding banquet hall
  • Opened wide – Probably a large number of guests have come
  • Next of kin – Close relative
  • Feast – Food
  • May’st you – Can’t you
  • Merry – Happy
  • Din – Music
Questions
  1. Why is wedding guest in a hurry?
    The wedding guest is in a hurry because he was reaching late for the marriage. It was his close relative’s wedding and he could not think of missing the occasion. Moreover, the old man appeared insane/mad with his long grey beard and glittering eyes.
  2. Do you think that the wedding guest is glad to be stopped? Why?
    No, the wedding guest was not glad to be stopped because he was getting late for the wedding and it was his close relative’s wedding. Moreover, the guest was not interested in listening to any story from an old man.
  3. Explain, “I am next of kin.”
    The wedding guest means to say that he was a close relative of the bridegroom.

Stanza 3

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

Paraphrase

The old man man said, “there was a ship.” Very angry at this, the wedding guest shouted, “Dont’ touch me, take off your hand, you, grey-bearded mad man!” Suddenly, he took off his hands.

Meaning
  • Skinny – Lean
  • Quoth – Quoted; said
  • Hold off – Take off; do not touch
  • Unhand – Take your hand off
  • Loon – Mad
  • Eftsoons – Soon; suddenly
  • Dropt – Dropped
  • He – Him
Answers
  1. For what did the old sailor stop the wedding guest?
    The old sailor was a desperate man. He had a sad and desperate story to tell someone. Seeing the young wedding guest the right choice to tell his story, the old sailor chose to tell him his story.
  2. How did the wedding guest react to the sailor’s attempt to tell him a story? Why did he react so?
    The wedding guest grew very angry at being stopped by the old man. He expressed his intense resentment by shouting at him. He even called him a mad man. He reacted in such a savage way because he was getting late for his close relative’s wedding.

Stanza 5

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

Paraphrase

The ancient mariner used his shining eyes to stop the wedding guest. When he held him in his stare, the wedding guest stood still and listened to the old sailor like a three year old child does. Having got a listener, the mariner felt relieved as his wish was granted.

Meaning

  • Glittering – Shining
  • Three year’s child – Without any doubt; innocent
  • Hath – Has/had
  • Will – Wish

Answers & Answers

  1. How did the sailor manage to make the wedding guest listen to him in spite of his refusal?
    The sailor was so desperately wanting the wedding guest listen to his dismal story but the wedding guest refused to the sailor’s sad story by shouting at him in his rage and by shaking his hands off. The mariner created interest in the wedding guest’s mind that he listened to the story like a three year’s, unquestioning child. He narrated the story in such a way that the listener was hypnotized and an avid eagerness was created.
  2. Do you think that the ancient mariner had an extraordinary skill to mesmerize his listener? Why do you think so?
  3. What was the mariner’s will? How did he have his will done?
    The mariner’s will or wish was that his story be heard by the wedding guest. He had his wish fulfilled when the wedding guest finally agreed to to listen to his story.

Stanza 6

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot not choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

Meaning

  • He cannot choose but hear – He had no other choice than listening
  • Spake – Spoke

Questions & Answers

  1. Why is the wedding guest compared to a three years’ child?
    The wedding guest is compared to a three years’ child as children at such an age listen to fairy tales with unquestioning interest and trust. Seeing the wedding guest sitting on a stone, we can justify the poet’s comparing him with a three year old child.

‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop into the sea
Below the kirk, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

Paraphrase

The friends and relatives who had gathered at the harbor cheered the ship as it started its journey. When they went home, the harbor lay deserted. The mariners started the journey very happily. The ship moved on. It passed a church, a hill and a lighthouse.

Meaning

  • Harbor – Shipyard
  • Merrily – Joyfully
  • Did we drop (we dropped) – We sailed
  • Kirk – Church

Questions & Answers

  1. How does the poet describe the starting of the journey?
    The voyage started in a grand manner. The voyagers were cheered by friends and relatives who had come to the harbor to see them off. The mariners were greatly excited about the voyage.
  2. Who cheered the ship? Why?
    Friends and relatives of the sailors cheered the ship. They cheered the ship because the ship was setting sail for a long journey.
  3. How did the harbor get cleared?
    With the ship leaving the harbor and the relatives and friends of the sailors departing the place, the harbor remained cleared.
  4. What three landmarks did the ship pass before getting going?
    Before reaching the deep sea, the ship first passed a church, then a hill and finally a lighthouse.
The First Morning

The Sun came up upon the left,
Out of the sea came he!
And he shone bright, and on the right
Went down into the sea.

Paraphrase

Next morning. The sun rose on the left as they were moving southward. At noon the sun shone bright. In the evening, the sun went down in the horizon. (A day passed with the ship moving steadily southward)

Meaning
  • He – The Sun (Personification)
  • Shone – Past of shine
Answers
  1. The first line indicates the direction of the ship’s movement. What do you make out of the ship’s movement?
    The ship is evidently moving southward. The sun’s rising on their left and setting on their right is indicative of the ship’s direction.
  2. The sun is addressed he in the second line. What is this poetic device?
    It is a personification.
  3. What does the poet refer to from the line, ‘out of the sea came he?’
  4. What kind of weather did the sailors experience at the beginning of their journey? How has it been expressed in the poem?

Higher and higher every day,
Till over the mast at noon…’
The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
For he heard the loud bassoon.

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Mast – The upright post on a ship/vessel for hoisting sails
  • Breast – Chest
  • Bassoon – A musical instrument
Answers
  1. What went higher and higher everyday?
    The sun went up higher and higher everyday.
  2. How did the wedding guest express his helplessness at having been forced to listen to the ancient mariner’s story?
    The wedding guest expressed his helplessness by beating his chest in anguish/despair.
  3. What distracted the wedding guest’s attention in the ancient mariner’s story?
  4. Why did the wedding guest feel helpless?

The bride hath paced into the hall,
Red as a rose is she;
Nodding their heads before her goes
The merry minstrelsy.

Paraphrase

The bride (the girl) has walked into the wedding hall. She is so shy that her blushing has turned her red as a rose. A band of musicians passed just in front of her blowing their musical instruments. While moving, these musicians shake their heads in style.

Meaning
  • Bride – The girl to be married
  • Paced – Walked
  • Hall – Wedding hall
  • Node – Shake
  • Merry – Happy; Cheerful
  • Minstrelsy – Musicians
Answers
  1. What is the significance of a wedding scene in the poem?
    Hints – Ancient mariner’s sad existence contrasts with the wedding’s happy mood.
  2. How does the minstrelsy lead the bridal procession?
    The minstrelsy blew their trumpets and progressed first and the bride and the procession followed the minstrelsy.

The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Spake – Spoke
  • The last two lines are a poetic device called refrain. A refrain is a line or two that are repeated at intervals in a poem.
Answers
  1. What is the effect of the refrain in the stanza on the reader?

And now the STORM-BLAST came, and he
Was tyrannous and strong:
He struck with his o’ertaking wings,
And chased us south along.

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Storm-blast – Storm
  • Tyrannous – Cruel and oppressive
  • O’ertaking – Overtaking
  • Chased – Follow someone to catch, harm or kill.
Answers
  1. What was the immediate impact of the storm-blast upon the ship?

With sloping masts and dipping prow,
As who pursued with yell and blow
Still treads the shadow of his foe,
And forward bends his head,
The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
And southward aye we fled.

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Sloping – Swaying/bending
  • Dipping – Drowning
  • Prow – Front projection of the ship
  • Yell and blow – Shouting and hitting
  • Tread – Chase
  • Shadow of his foe – Shadow of the ship
  • Foe – Enemy
  • Roared – Shouted
  • Southward – Toward the south
  • Aye -Hey!
  • Fled – Ran away
Answers
  1. What was the effect of the storm-blast upon the ship?
    With sloping masts and dipping prow, As who pursued with yell and blow Still treads the shadow of his foe, And forward bends his head, The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
    And southward aye we fled.
  2. How does the poet describe the power of the storm-blast?
    The power of the storm-blast was beyond description. It was like a gigantic, barbarous monster set upon/determined to destroying the ship.
  3. What was the storm-blast trying to destroy?
    The storm-blast was trying to destroy the ship.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Wondrous – Wonderfully
  • Mast-high – As high as the tall mast
  • Ice – Icebergs
  • Emerald – Green gemstone
Answers
  1. “And now there came both mist and snow.” What image of the sea and ship do you see in this line?
  2. What made the floating ice appear like emerald?
    Emerald is a precious green, lustrous stone. In the extreme south seas, icebergs are overgrown by tiny plants and grass such as plankton. With plankton overgrowing the icebergs, they appeared like green emerald.
  3. How did the sailors reach the land of mist and snow?
  4. How does the mariner express the fact that the ship was completely surrounded by icebergs?
  5. How did we know that the albatross was not afraid of the sailors? Why did the sailors hail it in God’s name?
  6. What was the terrible deed done by the mariner? Why do you think he did it?

And through the drifts the snowy clifts
Did send a dismal sheen:
Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
The ice was all between. 

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Drifts – Gap between the icebergs
  • Snowy clifts – Icebergs
  • Dismal – Sad
  • Sheen – Shining
  • Beast – Animal
  • Ken – Saw
Answers
  1. What did the snowy clifts send through the drifts?
  2. Why were the mariners sad when they were trapped among the icebergs?
  3. Ken means:
    1. Knew
    2. Stayed
    3. See
    4. Speak

The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
Like noises in a swound!

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Swound – A fainting fit
Answers
  1. Pick out the line with repetition.
    “The ice was here, the ice was there.”
  2. What is a swound? What is compared to a swound here?

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.

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Christian soul – An angel
  • Hail – Welcome; Call
  • From the fog an albatross flew towards the ship. Thinking that it was an angel sent by Gods, the mariners welcomed it.
Answers
  1. How did the mariners hail/welcome the albatross?
  2. Explain, ‘Christian Soul.”
  3. Why were the mariners so much excited that they hailed the albatross?

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!

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Helmsman – Captain of the ship
  • Steer – Guide
Answers
  1. What kind of food is being referred to here?
  2. What was the impact of the albatross’ arrival?

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner’s hollo!

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Sprung – (Past of spring) Jump
  • Hollo – Call
Answers
  1. What happened to the ship after the breaking of the ice?
  2. Who followed the ship? What for?

In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white Moon-shine.’

Paraphrase
Meaning
  • Mast – The central pillar of a ship
  • Shroud – Sail
  • Perched – Sat
  • Vespers nine – A prayer said at night
  • Whiles – While
  • Glimmered – Shone
  1. What is vespers nine?
    Vespers nine is an evening prayer, generally said before bed.

‘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.

Paraphrase

“All went well with you, old sailor,” said the wedding guest. “God has saved you from your enemies. Why do you still look sad?” The mariner said, “Oh, I killed that albatross with my crossbow!”

Meaning
  • God save thee – God has saved you!
  • Fiends – Enemies
  • Plague – Trouble
  • Why look’st thy so – Why do you appear so?
  • Cross-bow – A weapon to shoot fish or birds
  1. Why did the wedding guest say that God had saved the ancient mariner?
    The wedding guest said that God had saved the ancient mariner because after the arrival of the albatross their trials ended. When the albatross appeared, theirs hearts filled with hope, when the albatross flew around the ship, the icebergs broke and submerged into the water. Besides, a wind from the south pushed the ship to the North.
  2. What does the wedding guest mean by the ‘fiends that plagued the mariners?’
    The ship of the ancient mariner was first plagued by a powerful storm that blew the ship toward the south. Once they reached the extreme south, their ship got entangled among massive icebergs. The ship remained in a thick blanket of freezing clouds that blocked their vision. Apart from these visible fiends, each mariner was caught in a very serious uneasiness caused by hopelessness.
  3. Why did the mariner look sad even after the trials were over?

General Questions – Advanced Level

  1. How did this happen that the ancient mariner stopped the wedding guest who was there to attend his next of kin’s wedding?
    The ancient mariner was not a magician but his eyes had severe power to keep anyone at his will. He had a strange power of speech and expressions.
  2. How does Coleridge use themes of nature?
    One of the recurrent themes that the poet has used throughout include references to, nature, both in its beauty and horror. “The ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around” and “it cracked and growled, and roared and howled, like noises in a swound!” are able to scare the reader.
  3. Mention the other thematic elements that the poet uses in the poem.
    Water and clouds, mist, sky and the Sun and Moon and the stars, and snow, his use of light and dark, good and bad, are all part of the poem’s setting. Besides, the poet has used references to human activities, music, ‘the merry din’, and ‘the loud bassoon.’
  4. What are the other elements that create a feeling of horror in the poem?
    Coleridge’s description of the state of the ship and its sorry crew, is in such a way to almost drain the reader into feeling weary. The wedding guest’s fear of his skinny hand, and the penalties for the curse, build the feelings of dread and foreboding in the reader.
  5. How is the beginning of the poem a stark contrast to the ending?
    The Ancient Mariner commences with his tale, the mood of which starts optimistic. ‘The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared, merrily did we drop below the kirk, below the hill, below the lighthouse top’, gives us the feel of a romantic story but the poem ends as a tragedy.
  6. How does the poet convey to the reader that the ship was initially heading toward the south?
    It also gives direction to the ship, rising from the left, from the east, helps orientate the reader, to the fact that the ship is heading south. The poet has given further references to the rising and setting of the Sun and its position over the ship’s mast throughout.
  7. What is the effect of narrating directions at the start of the poem?
    The poet has successfully made the readers feel the directions in the poem so that they could feel like traveling in the ship. This kind of a narration adds to the enjoyment of a poem. ‘The Sun came up upon the left, Out of the sea came he! And he shone bright, and on the right Went down into the sea’ clearly establishes the ship’s southward movement.
  8. What makes you think that the ship was not intending to go to the east?
    The ship was, under the light of contextual evidences, not on a voyage to the East this is understood from the fact that the mariner was not happy when the Storm Blast pushed the ship to the South.
  9. To what extend does the wedding guest appear to be a light-hearted simpleton?
    Out of the three wedding guests only one stands out. He may not be comical by nature but the ancient mariner’s spell works on him. His sitting on a stone, his beating his breast and later, when he got a chance to run away from the ancient mariner, the childish man asks the mariner to continue the tale.

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