Christian Symbolism in “Rise of the Ancient Mariner”

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

From the advent of the Bible, both religious and Christian concepts have also been used in writing. The historical imagery of the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” published by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797, has been debated throughout literary history. Scholars have always come up with different explanations of this poem, but one particular idea has been prevalent in several debates and is the simple spiritual thread throughout this whole poem. The Ancient Mariner has organic and religious metaphors, but the most important roles in this poem are the metaphysical and human symbolisms that compare with each other. It tells a tale of sin, whose wages are death, and the life that exists within that death and beyond. As Coleridge himself said of his masterpiece, it “turns out to be the idea of transgression and absolution, and of the train of consequences which persists even after absolution” as said by Sean Fitzpatrick. (

The religious imagery used in this poem was essentially an Armageddon as it deals with the revelation of the Mariner that good must triumph over bad, and the acknowledgment of all creation as the existence of God. In ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ it is impossible to believe that Coleridge did not think of the enigmatic wind blowing on the Mariner, without any knowledge of the air as a sign of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Coleridge could also equate the albatross assassination with Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. If the albatross did not show up the crew possibly would have died in the ice field. But with that being said, shooting the albatross seems like a fate worse than death. This is the case because shooting the albatross seems like a useless act. As an oppressed deity for redemption, the albatross represents Christ in many respects, especially when you think that a bird also symbolizes Christ.

In an Article Written by Pedro Gonzalez, he writes: “In Coleridge’s poem the albatross comes out of the snow-fog like a wraith. At first, the sailors view it as a good omen that they hope will deliver them to warmer waters: “As if it had been a Christian soul/We hailed it in God’s name.” The encounter with the albatross is an integral aspect of the poem. The albatross, a bird that is rarely seen on land, perches on the ship for nine consecutive evenings — ”vespers nine” — a Christian symbol of evening prayer. The ship turns around and begins to sail north with the aid of a south wind. The mariner and his crew become optimistic. The sailors even enjoy the light of the moon, glimmering through the ominous fog.” ( What he is saying is that when the mariner shoots the albatross it is killed without a reason and this is because of the mariner’s hubris. He is also saying that the main component in this poem is a simile to the Christian belief of salvation. In line 404 it is told to the reader that the Polar Spirit “loved the bird that loved the man, Who shot him with his bow”. He was saying that there is a bond between them that is considerably strong. This connection is linked not only to the love between man and animal but to the relationship between a person and religion. There is concern that someone with the Religious heritage and religion of Coleridge may struggle to see a parallel to God who loved his son and loved the men who killed him.

“The Ocean becomes thicker and the sailor’s lips are parched by heat and thirst. The curse torments everyone on the ship. The dead Albatross, which hung around the Mariner’s neck symbolizes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as it can be seen in the below lines,”( “Ah! Well-a-day! What Evil Looks Had I from old and young! Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung”. Christ’s crucifixion has been debated for centuries; this image’s biblical reference is massive. Coleridge was able to portray a sense of despair and a loss of hope through the use of expressions, similar to the loss of hope when our Lord Jesus Christ is nailed to the cross.

Going further into Coleridge’s imagination and exploring his writing further, dissecting the text can be seen as another theoretical approach to understanding the loss of moral and/or biblical reference. Since the publication of Coleridge’s work, most literary experts believe that Coleridge deliberately created such signs and objects with Christian intent in mind; but if so, why? Such completely secret symbolism and literary methods were needed in order for Coleridge to encapsulate readers’ full attention and question their understanding. Coleridge also aims to lead the readers through this method through the use of examples and terms that individuals may respond to. The disaster was extensively articulated throughout this novel as Coleridge combined The Ancient Mariner’s bright colors, ocean, and fire fires with the wrath-day terror and desolation to symbolize the actual destruction. In Lines 107 Coleridge writes:

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down, ‘Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only break The Silence of the sea! All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody Sun, at noon, Right above the mast did stand, No bigger than the moon. Day after day, day after day, We stuck, not breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.

The section of the poem after the Mariner kills the Albatross is a description of the emptiness and desolation that the Mariners experience, and the curse that is over the ship. The portion of the poem after the Mariner destroys the Albatross, is a depiction of the void and desolation felt by the Mariners, as well as the curse over the vessel. Every portion of the poem relates greatly to the tale of the apocalypse. In this section of the poem, the vocabulary and structure reflect the images and words that have historically represented God’s wrath and In Biblical words, man’s remorse. Now keep going in the poem through stanza one in lines 220 it says, “The souls did from their bodies fly They fled to bliss or woe! And every soul, it pass’d me by Like the whizz of my crossbow!” The Mariner was responsible at this stage in the poem of murdering the Albatross and for the deaths of his shipmates. He continues to transform as the Mariner starts to understand the effect of his actions. The Mariner is starting to feel God’s eyes at this point in time; he is beginning to see the goodness in all the creations of God and the meaning of life.

As mentioned above, the Mariner starts his conversion before this realization; he acknowledges the Albatross curse and the motives for his crew’s death. His acts torment him and the only way out is suicide. In lines 257, “An orphan’s curse would drag to hell A spirit from on high; But oh! More horrible than that Is the curse in a dead man’s eye! Seven days, seven nights, I saw that Curse, and yet I could not die.” What is described in the quote above, the spell that resulted in Albatross’s murder left the Mariner seeing death as the only possible way to get rid of the horrific, tragic pictures that left his crew dead. Still floating cursed under the moonlit sky as the Mariner’s vessel, but then he encounters something that affects his view of God and his religion.

Coleridge writes in line 272:

Beyond the shadow of the ship, I watch’d the water-snakes: They moved in tracks of shinning white, And when they rear’d, the elfish light Fell off in hoary flakes. Within the shadow of the ship I watch’d their rich attire: Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, They coil’d and swam; and every track Was a flash of golden fire. O happy living things! No tongue Their beauty might declare: A spring of love gush’d from my heart, And I bless’d them unaware: Sure, my kind saint took pity on me, And I bless’d them unaware. The selfsame moment I could pray; And from my neck so free The Albatross fell off, and sank Like lead into the sea.

It is at this stage that the Mariner starts his transformation; taking him closer to God, helping him to see the goodness in the things and creatures of God as he develops a love for God’s presence in life. This redemption in the life of the Mariner lifts the stigma and shines in the eyes of a man who wished for death light of hope.

Coleridge uses various elements of nature as examples of religious thinking and values, such as the sea. The ocean is where the defining events take place, times of divine choice, challenge, and rebirth. The Mariner takes the impossible alternative of destroying the Albatross while at sea. This decision is permanent because there is nothing he can do to change it once the Mariner has committed the act of murder. A curse comes over the ship as a result of the Mariner’s decision, and the Mariner is condemned to eternal punishment. The everlasting penance he has to give is a sign of the choice he made to the Mariner. Nevertheless, even after the loss of his spirit, as he understands and begins to value all the things of God, the Mariner achieves resurrection. It is a known fact that the thoughts and feelings of Coleridge, particularly the future, are barely influenced by his views. The biblical narrative deals with God’s liberation and moving man’s soul from the agony of sin and death into heaven. He looks like he is under some kind of spell after the Mariner kills the albatross. The Mariner, however, goes through as a redemption, freeing his soul from the burdens of sin and death so that he can get happiness again. There are two important steps in the process of conversion. The first phase happens as creative influences mythological manifestations in nature so that horrific revenge seems to be brought down by the least deliberate act. The eager act in which the Mariner takes part is the killing of the Albatross, and the awful revenge arising from this deed is the curse cast over the ship.

There can be a great lesson in regards to the Mariner describing an image of the snakes in the poem as said by Hua Yan from the University of Shanghai for science and technology: “The snake is also another image or life of nature without prejudice. From this poem, we can also find the mariner defines the albatross as a king of animal. And the spirit involves the albatross, sea, moon, and the snake as equal things with humans. If humans kill other living things unreasonably, they will pay debts for their evil crimes. In this poem, the albatross is a virtuous thing which symbols God. While the snake is not like a devil who seduces Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. Under the description of Coleridge, the snake is beautiful and pure. These lovely living creatures arouse the interests of humans so that the old mariner receives salvation and gets out of trouble. We can see that in the heart of Coleridge, everything is beautiful and amazing. All of them are the living “humans”, just like people themselves” (

At the greatest moment of hopelessness, the second part of this conversion process takes place. At this point, the presence of divine love emerges within humanity, and the existence of the natural world is stressed. ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is not a straightforward religious message, but throughout the work there are many clear parallels to the Christian religion that derive from the religious beliefs of Coleridge. Although the religious symbols in this poem were not taken directly from the Bible by Coleridge, much of his inspiration for the poem seems to be based on religious ideas, especially that of the Apocalypse. In this poem, Coleridge incorporates natural signs associated with religious symbolism to further demonstrate his belief that God is present everywhere in life and that one can be sent to this state of heaven when this reverence of Christ is discovered. By using metaphors from nature’s tragedy and religious symbolism, Coleridge crafted an unforgettable poem that explains how the knowledge of divine love within oneself has the power to heal pain and suffering while at the same time bringing yourself to a state of peace, tranquility and enlightenment.

Works Cites

  1. M. Balamurugan, S. Reehana Asmin. “Religious Symbolism in S. T. Coleridges The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Pune Research, March-April 2017.
  2. Gonzalez, Pedro Blas. “Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and the Faith That Comes by Hearing.” The Russell Kirk Center, 25 Nov. 2018,
  3. HUA Yan. “The Images in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. “July 2015. PDF File.
  4. Fitzpatrick, Sean. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner & Lent: A Matter of Life in Death.” Crisis Magazine, 3 Apr. 2014,
  5. Coleridge, Samuel, Taylor. ‘The Rise of the Ancient Marnier.’ The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 10th ed. Eds. Stephen Greenblatt et al. Vol D. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. 448-466. Print.


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