The ancient mariner told his tale to a wedding-guest about the penance that he endured during his solitude in the sea. Shooting an albatross, he did not expect what would happen to him and the crew after. He knew that he did something wrong as the crew cursed him for shooting a bird of luck. Thus, he paid with the death of around fifty men. Isolated and regretful, he was almost driven into insanity. The paper will discuss how solitude and regret drove the ancient mariner into a slump, nearly taking his own life if he was not able to endure the burden of both.
Solitude and Regret in the Open Sea
Solitude in the open sea is one of the things that all mariners fear. Being trapped with no company, mariners would lose their heads and most likely drown themselves or feed their bodies to lingering sharks. Regret is also a hard burden to carry while in the open sea. A mariner may temporarily forget about the regret, but it would always crawl back if not fixed immediately. When combined, these two feelings can kill any mariner—literally or non-literally. The ancient mariner experienced such combination of feelings, as he and a crew of about fifty ventured across the sea. It was his mistake that almost drove him into insanity and death, as he caused the death of the whole crew. It was a curse brought upon him by the elemental spirits. This paper would focus on the third part of the poem, stanza 17, lines 74-77: “Four times fifty living men / (And I heard nor sigh nor groan) / With heavy thump, a lifeless lump, / They dropped down one by one” (Coleridge, 1866, p. 25). This stanza indicates the beginning of the real penance that the ancient mariner experienced while in the open sea. I chose this for the fact that it is an integral part of the poem—the tale of the ancient mariner—since it gives the readers an idea of what he was about to endure.
An Albatross for Fifty men
Killing an albatross for the price of fifty men; does it sound like a fair deal? Any man would dare not think so since a bird is just a bird to the rules of men. Frankly, I believe it to be a ridiculous offer. Somehow, the mariner may have thought otherwise. Trigger-happy, he shot down the albatross, a bird of luck for mariners since it brought life. The rest of the crew despised him for the insidious act upon which, later on, brought them to Davey Jones’ Locker; a selfish act, I suppose. A question lingers around my head, and it goes “Why did he survive while the others died?” Well, it could easily be answered with, “To pay for his crime.” Indeed, that happened as he was cursed by the elemental spirit—a friend of the bird—in order to avenge its fallen friend. The ancient mariner felt a little regret for killing the bird, but it was when the rest of the crew died wherein he felt most regretful. To heighten that feeling of regret, each of them still cursed him with their eyes even though they were already lifeless. The stabbing look in their eyes worried him while knowing that the spirit mocked and laughed at him and at the same time despised him for killing a friend; a payment too hefty to pay but must be paid.
The ancient mariner witnessed the deaths of his shipmates. Of course, anyone would receive a flush of regret with the knowledge that they caused such a tragedy at sea. Yet, regret was not the only thing that bothered him. With all his shipmates lifeless around him, their presence would not matter to him anymore, for it will not cure his state of solitude. To make things worse, he was trapped in the open sea. I know I would not last very long, seeing that body of water and its residents become friendlier after each passing day of solitude.
Solitude and Regret as Punishment
In my opinion, Coleridge intended on placing the stanza (part III, 17) for the purpose of giving the reader an introductory phase, a transitional stanza to the ancient mariner’s solitude at sea, which is under the fourth part of the poem; each part seems to explain a different phase in the mariner’s journey. Given the following premise, the readers would be able to see the cause of such solitude in the following chapters, as well as what he was destined to endure after his crime. It was a long suffering for the ancient mariner since his solitude was exacted upon the death of his shipments on the second to the last stanza of part III. He was at the spirit’s mercy and penance, for his crime had needed to be paid. Coleridge (1866) instinctively placed the stanza at this part of the poem since the ancient mariner’s tale to the boy was already upon its second twist, wherein the rest of the crew died for his crime. The crime committed was not grave enough to sacrifice the lives of his shipments—probably made up of close friends and family. However, the payment for the crime, along with other forms of suffering like thirst and hunger which he endured during his penance, was an equivalent exchange for the crime’s severity. After all, he shot down the albatross which in turn, took the lives of his shipments. Hence, I believe it served him right.
The stanza brought a sense of a fair and unfair justice to the poem’s readers. The readers may think that it was not a fair trade at all—referring to the albatross for fifty men. They may feel sympathy towards the rest of the crew, and they may also feel the same towards the ancient mariner. The readers may also feel that it was a fair payment for the crime committed against the albatross and the spirits—referring to solitude and regret; although this feeling may only last at this paragraph since it will drastically change as one reads through the succeeding parts and stanzas. Coleridge (1866) made a fine choice in placing such a dramatic stanza in the poem; the drama here is the demise of the crew, as they fell one after another. As I read through the stanza, I imagined the drama unfolding before the ancient mariner’s eyes. This may be the purpose of including it in the poem; it intensifies the reader’s imagination to the drama and enables them to see through what the protagonist saw.
An Integral Part
The stanza contributes a sense of drama to the whole poem or at least, this part of the poem. It is an integral part of the ancient mariner’s storytelling since it consists of a tragedy that he witnessed during the encounter with the elemental spirit. That tragedy triggered a feeling of regret which can be felt by the readers throughout the succeeding lines. The 17th stanza is the poem’s most tragic part since it involves a great loss for the ancient mariner, evoking sympathy from the readers. This sympathy would then be carried by the reader throughout the poem as the protagonist’s encounter does not stop there. The feeling of solitude and regret is further intensified within the succeeding stanzas, but it is in this stanza that the solitude and regret would start; for regret, it would start with the killing of the albatross but would be vindicated by the death of his shipmates. Since the poem tells a story of a man’s journey, the tragedy which he experienced makes it more interesting for the reader. Due to this tragedy, the stanza is also able to push the entire poem forward since the ancient mariner’s journey of penance began after the death of his shipmates. The death was too tragic for him to bear, which made him regret killing the albatross earlier.
Sentenced to Solitude
Solitude and regret was the sentence given by the elemental spirit, although it was vetoed by the heavenly saint; thus, his ordeal lasted for only a few days. With the death of his shipmates, he was sentenced to solitude. Line 75 of the 17th stanza in Part III describes that they just died peacefully: “(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)” (Coleridge, 1866, p. 25). They just fell one by one, without pain—“no groan” suggests that it was painless. Even so, it was still a painful experience for the ancient mariner since being stranded alone at sea can almost be equaled to being dead. The stanza may also be perceived that what happened was the other way around: with him dead rather than his shipmates. This may be possible because it could have been death to pick him up; he might have died from thirst since their ship has been floating stagnantly. At one point of the poem, it was mentioned that the wedding-guest feared that he might have been talking to a ghost. This may be true because of how his shipmates cursed him for killing a lucky bird. This is just what I think, looking at this stanza from a different angle.
Solitude and regret are two things that can be seen in this poem. Stanza 17 of Part III shares a tragedy that seems to have started the feeling of solitude and intensified the feeling of regret that the ancient mariner experienced. This may be considered as enough proof to indicate that the stanza is an important part of the whole poem, as it contains the tragedy of the ancient mariner’s tale to the wedding-guest. It is a twist that conveys two possible scenarios to the rest of the poem’s story: the mariner’s shipmates were dead, or he was dead.
Coleridge, S. T. (1866). The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. New York: D. Appleton & Co.