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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (originally The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere) is the longest major poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in 1797-98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. Modern editions use a revised version printed in 1817 that featured a gloss. Along with other poems in Lyrical Ballads, it was a signal shift to modern poetry and the beginning of British Romantic literature. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner relates the experiences of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage. The mariner stops a man who is on the way to a wedding ceremony and begins to narrate a story. The wedding-guest's reaction turns from bemusement to impatience to fear to fascination as the mariner's story progresses, as can be seen in the language style: Coleridge uses narrative techniques such as personification and repetition to create a sense of danger, the supernatural, or serenity, depending on the mood in different parts of the poem. The mariner's tale begins with his ship departing on its journey. Despite initial good fortune, the ship is driven south by a storm and eventually reaches Antarctic waters. An albatross appears and leads them out of the ice jam where they are stuck, but even as the albatross is praised by the ship's crew, the mariner shoots the bird: With my cross-bow, I shot the albatross. The crew is angry with the mariner, believing the albatross brought the south wind that led them out of the Antarctic. However, the sailors change their minds when the weather becomes warmer and the mist disappears: 'Twas right, said they, such birds to slay, That bring the fog and mist. They soon find that they made a grave mistake in supporting this crime, as it arouses the wrath of spirits who then pursue the ship "from the land of mist and snow"; the south wind that had initially led them from the land of ice now sends the ship into uncharted waters near the equator, where it is becalmed. 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. The very deep did rot - Oh Christ! That ever this should be. Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs, Upon the slimy sea. The sailors change their minds again and blame the mariner for the torment of their thirst. In anger, the crew forces the mariner to wear the dead albatross about his neck, perhaps to illustrate the burden he must suffer from killing it, or perhaps as a sign of regret: Ah! Well a-day! What evil looks Had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the albatross About my neck was hung. Eventually, the ship encounters a ghostly hulk. On board are Death (a skeleton) and the "Night-mare Life-in-Death," a deathly-pale woman, who are playing dice for the souls of the crew. With a roll of the dice, Death wins the lives of the crew members and Life-in-Death the life of the mariner, a prize she considers more valuable. Her name is a clue to the mariner's fate: he will endure a fate worse than death as punishment for his killing of the albatross.
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