Rime of the Ancient Mariner by S. T. Coleridge
Part Two of the poem
The Sun now rose upon the right:
Out of the sea came he,
Still hid in mist, and on the left
Went down into the sea.
In the previous part of the poem we had seen that thing were looking good for the ship. The weather was a bit favourable even though it was still cold and misty, and a good south wind was carrying the ship in the right direction. This all changed after the mariner killed the Albatross. In the second part of the poem, the poet starts with the mariner’s narration of what befell the ship and the mariner’s lot. The sun rose up every day from the left as if coming out of the sea and still went down at night. The mist was still very thick and the ship couldn’t see the sun from the thick cover. It was still very cold and foggy. The important thing to notice in this stanza is that the mariner says “the sun rose upon the right.” This gives us an idea as to where the ship was travelling and we can infer that it was going a general North or North-west direction. We come to know that the ship which was drifted into the Antarctic water was now coming out of it. This becomes relevant in the following stanzas where we see a drastic change in the ships surrounding atmosphere.
And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no sweet bird did follow,
Nor any day for food or play
Came to the mariner’s hollo!
The good south wind which was carrying the ship out of the frozen wasteland of the south was still blowing behind them, but they were no longer accompanied by the Albatross as the Mariner had shot him. Everyone on the ship noticed the bird’s absence. We witness a sense of attachment between the sailors and the albatross in these lines. The mariner calls the albatross ‘sweet bird.’ We can see that deep down the mariner is sorry and regrets killing the albatross. The sailors had grown to love the albatross as you and I would to our pet dogs and cats. The mariner expresses a sense of loss by saying that the bird didn’t come to his hollo.
And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work ’em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!
The Mariner had realised that he had done a cruel thing by killing the bird. He calls it a ‘hellish’ act. The mariner was still superstitious and he thought that his action was going to cause everyone woe. However, he was not alone to think this way. All the sailors on the ship had declared that the mariner had killed the bird who brought the wind with it and now they were going to suffer. They all turned against him and called him a wretch. We see here that the weather has changed again and the south wind is no longer blowing. The sailors, superstitious as they are, blame the mariner for this change as they think he killed the bird who brought the wind.
Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head,
The glorious Sun uprist:
Then all averred, I had killed the bird
That brought the fog and mist.
‘Twas right, said they, such birds to slay,
That bring the fog and mist.
The cool climate that the ship had erstwhile seen had now completely changed and the weather was hot and dry. We see a complete contrast between the weather in the first two parts of the poem. While it was unbearably cold in the former part when the ship was passing through the glaciers, it was now unbearably hot as they moved into the open sea. The speaker describes the sun as white-hot like ‘God’s own head.’ It wasn’t dim or pleasantly warm like the red sun in afternoon but was blazing hot like the halo of God. The sailors averred that it was right to kill the bird which had brought fog and mist with it and caused them to nearly freeze to death. We see here that throughout the poem, the sailors are indecisive as to what actions were good or bad. If something favourable happens, they think it was right, whereas if something adverse happens they begin to lay blame on something or the other. We see their shifting views as they first blame the mariner for killing the bird who made the wind blow, but later they commend him for killing the bird as it brought fog and mist causing them to freeze in the icy wasteland.
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
The ship journeyed further. A fair breeze was blowing and there was white foam in the sea and the furrows followed free. What the speaker means by the line ‘the furrow followed free’ is that the sea was calm. If you’ve ever observed a ship sailing, you would’ve noticed that as it moves forward it created small ripples in the water. When the water is especially calm, these ripples look much like furrows in soil. The poet uses this metaphor to illustrate the calmness of the water. The ship further passed into unknown and uncharted waters. The mariner says that they were the first who ever crossed that part of the silent sea. With this new landscape before them, the mariner and the other sailors are faced with new challenges about which we read in the next stanza.
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
The fair breeze which comforted the sailors to some extent now stopped blowing. There was neither any wind in the sails nor any strong current or wave in the water. The ship was merely floating in the silent sea with a hot blazing sun in the sky. The mariner says that their condition was as sad as it could possibly get. The sailors were all exhausted and couldn’t muster the spirit to even talk. They spoke only to break the silence they were surrounded by in the sea.
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
The speaker says that the sky was as hot as copper. Copper when heated glows with a yellow colour. The metaphor hot copper sky paints the picture of a warm yellow scorching firmament. The sun is called bloody to indicate its hotness like the intense red color of blood. On the other hand, the word ‘bloody’ also serves the purpose of a curse. The Mariner loathed the sun and the unnervingly hot weather. Every day at midday, the sun would be right above the mast of the ship blazing in all its splendor. It was no bigger than the size of moon but was extremely hot.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
The ship was stuck in the motionless sea for a very long time. Day after day the mariner and the crew men would face the blistering heat while the ship stayed in the sea motionless. There was no wind or waves to drive it. In the southern waters the ship was stuck because of the cold which froze the water. But here the ship was once again stuck, now because of the wind and waves, or rather the lack thereof. The Mariner says that it felt as if the ship was a painted ship on a painted ocean on some canvas. This goes to show the degree to which everything was motionless and still.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
The ship was in the ocean and there was water everywhere to the farthest reaches of the horizon. It was so hot and dry that even the boards out of which the ship was made began to shrink. The ship was surrounded by water on all sides but the sailors could not have a single drop to drink. The water in oceans is salty and unfit for drinking. The Mariner wants to say that it was as if the ocean was mocking them with all the water. It is interesting to note here that the poet uses a refrain here ‘water, water, everywhere.’ This forms the only refrain in the poem
The very deep did rot: O Christ!
That ever this should be!
Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs
Upon the slimy sea.
The ship was stuck in the motionless sea without any wind or waves. The water of the sea was stagnant and the speaker says that things were rotting. Now this comes out be an exaggeration because it is quite hard for things to start rotting in salty water. But the fact that ‘the very deep’ (which is used to refer to the body of water the ship was in), is said to be rotting shows us the intensity of misfortune and dreadful conditions the Mariner faced. The speaker himself affirms this extent of his hardship by the exclamation ‘O Christ! that ever this should be!’ The sea was so foul that repulsive sea creatures with disgusting slimy legs were seen crawling in the sea.
We should pay attention to the scene the poet creates here. The mariner is in a rotting place and there are slimy foul creatures in the water. This state of affairs strongly indicates the mariner’s sense of being subjected to damnation for the crime of killing the Albatross. This is the poet’s way of showing what befell the mariner after committing the sin. We see an expansion on this in the following stanzas and parts.
About, about, in reel and rout
The death-fires danced at night;
The water, like a witch’s oils,
Burnt green, and blue and white.
All around the ship death-fires danced at night in the form of the reel-dance form. What the speaker means by this is that they saw creepy flames in the night sky. The water too looked like it was burning with dismal green, blue, and white colours. The poet compares the water to a witch’s oil. The poet here uses such imagery as death-fires, reel dance and water burning like witch’s oil to convey a somber mood and create a supernatural environment. The scene set is essentially that the ship is moving through flaming sea which is quite similar to the mythical river Phlegethon in Hell according to Greek mythology. The river Phlegethon is said to punish those who commit crimes of violence, especially murder. Thus, this forms a direct reference to the mariner’s crime of killing the Albatross and the scene is set to show the punishment he receives for it.
And some in dreams assurèd were
Of the Spirit that plagued us so;
Nine fathom deep he had followed us
From the land of mist and snow.
The extreme hardships of the travel and the supernatural occurrences let the crew to believe that the spirit of the Albatross killed by the Mariner was following the ship and was the reason why misfortune after misfortune befell their lot. The crew members had nightmares about the spirit of the Albatross and were sure it bode them ill. They were convinced that the spirit of the dead bird had followed them all the way from the southern landscape of mist and snow. Notice here how the poet uses the phrase ‘nine fathom’. It seems almost intentional for the poet to use the number nine as in ‘nine vespers,’ and now ‘nine fathom’ The mariner suggests that all the while the spirit of the Albatross was moving nine fathoms that is 54 feet below the ship.
And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
There was no potable water on the ship and the sailors were slowly weakened by extreme dehydration. There was a ‘drought’ on the ship; even though it was surrounded on all sides by water, the sailors could not drink a single drop of it. Their tongues were shriveled and withered due to lack of water. The imagery mentioned in the previous stanza sounds a bit too supernatural but it can be explained as simple hallucinations due to extreme dehydration. Dehydration hallucinations are a real thing. The sailors’ mouths were so dry that they could not speak, as if they were choked with soot. They felt their throats were as dry as soot.
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
The sailors, of course, blamed the mariner for all of their misadventures. They could not speak but they all gave him an intense accusatory stare. All the sailors, young or old held him responsible for their travails. They removed the cross the mariner wore around his neck and hung the body of the dead Albatross in its place. This was a gesture on their part intended as both a punishment and reminder of the mariner’s wrongdoing. The mariner was made to literally carry the weight of his mistakes. The image of the dead Albatross worn around the neck has grown so popular that it has become an idiom meaning “A heavy burden of guilt that becomes an obstacle to success. Thus, we see the mariner suffering for his crime.