The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797–1798 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Some modern editions use a revised version printed in 1817 that featured a gloss.
A group of wedding guests was on its way to a wedding feast when one of them was stopped by an old sailor. He was eager to tell him his story. The sailor insisted upon it and the guest was forced to stay back and listen to his story.
The mariner began his story that how their ship sailed from the harbor on a happy note. They had a smooth journey for a short period of time after which a storm drove their ship southwards towards snow and mist. The ship got stuck in the lifeless region with huge masses of ice surrounding it. The ice made thunderous sounds as it cracked.
At this point of time an Albatross came flying through the mist. It was treated to be a noble soul, a holy messenger of God. With its arrival the snow cracked and gave way to the ship which once again started sailing.
The holy bird accompanied the ship, and was fed by the crew. A favorable south wind blew which drove the ship out of the cursed land of snow and mist. The sailors thanked the bird as it was a good omen for them.
The wedding guest noticed that the sailor’s face suddenly turned sad. The sailor answered his curiosity that in a spur of the moment, with his crossbow, he had shot the bird dead.
His fellow sails men blamed and cursed him for killing the holy bird but later they felt that he was right in killing the bird which had brought the fog and mist.
For some time, the ship kept on sailing smoothly towards the north. Suddenly, the wind stopped blowing and the ship came to a standstill.
Gradually, their stock of drinking water finished and although there was water all around them, they did not have a single drop to drink. The sea was so quiet that it seemed to rot, and ugly creatures moved on its surface. They felt that the bird’s soul had followed them to take revenge. Their mouths were so dry that they were unable to speak. All the crew stared at the mariner with hatred. They removed the cross which he wore around his neck and hung the dead Albatross in its place to signify his sin and guilt.
The poem is based on the theme of sin and redemption. After the ancient mariner commits a sin by killing the albatross, guilt hounds him in the form of strange natural and supernatural phenomena. During one terrifying experience, he has a change of heart and repents his wrongdoing. He carries out a penance, which is to travel the world to tell his tale to strangers.