Killing of The Albatross in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner

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      The Ancient Mariner kills the innocent, loving Albatross. For this he and his companions suffer terribly. The Polar spirit avenges the crime. Their sufferings begin when the ship enters the Pacific Ocean. The wind drops down and the ship stands motionless. The sun burns fiercely and stands directly above the mast. No drinking water is left in the ship. Every tongue is withered at the root. They are unable to speak and are thus condemned to silence. The silent sea is rotting. Slimy creatures of the sea crawl around the ship. Death fires dance around. The water of the sea burns at night with Various colours like witches' oil. Some of the mariners dream that the spirit of the polar region is closely pursuing them in order to punish them. They blame The Ancient Mariner for their suffering, curse him with their looks and hang the dead body of the bird around his neck, in place of the Cross. The mariners are almost dead with thirst. Suddenly they see a ship coming from the horizon. Their joy turns to horror as they find that it is a spectre-ship, moving steadily forward without any wind or tide. As it comes near they are paralysed with fear to find that the crew of the ship are Death and Life-in-Death, a woman. The two are playing at dice to decide the fate of The Ancient Mariner while the two hundred crew are claimed by Death. Presently the crew drop down dead, one after the other.

      The Ancient Mariner is left all alone in that wide sea. He suffers a kind of living death as the curse in the dead men's eyes seems to haunt him. He could not die, though every moment he hankers for death. No saint of heaven takes pity on him. Even God seems to have deserted him. He looks upon the sea and sees only slimy creatures there. He looks at the deck but it is filled with dead bodies. He looks up to heaven and tries to pray but instead of prayer only a wicked whisper comes and leaves his heart as dry as dust. Seven days and seven nights go on in this way. At last, a change comes. One moonlit night he sees beautiful water-snakes moving around the ship. Their beauty makes him glad and he blesses them inadvertently. A spring of love seems to come gushing out of his heart. He feels that some kind saint of Heaven has taken pity on him. Thus love purifies his sinful soul and he can pray. As a result the dead body of the bird falls off his neck. Thus part of his penance is done. But his suffering is not yet completely over. The memory of the crime visits his soul from time to time and racks his whole body and mind with a woeful agony. The pain is relieved only when he unburdens his soul by telling his story to somebody who will willingly listen to him.

      On a superficial view, the punishment of the Mariner seems to be out of proportion to the crime. It seems that an unduly severe punishment has been given to the Mariner for the mere killing of a bird. But we must remember the true significance of the Mariner's crime. The Ancient Mariner shows no respect for the legendary sanctity of life. The bird is innocent, unsuspecting and loving. It comes at the call of the Mariners and takes food from their hands or plays with them. To kill such a bird is a needless act of cruelty and great violation of the law of love and hospitality. He shows hate for one of the creatures of God and thus has committed one of the blackest of sins. That is why his suffering is so terrible. If he is given death, it will be an end of suffering. Hence he is deprived of death and make to perform his penance in full. At last, when love purifies his soul he is able to pray and look forward to salvation. The poet seems to imply that an act of hatred is atoned for by an act of love. In the end his heart is purified as love gushes out for the meanest of God's creatures. Thus views, the punishment of The Ancient Mariner does not seem to be out of proportion to his crime.

      The Ancient Mariner has killed the Albatross with his cross-bow. His companions condemns him for his crime for they believe that it is a bird of good omen that causes the south wind blow and the sunshine brightly. But once the mist clears, the Mariners changes their opinion and says it is right to slay the bird that bring the fog and mist. As the poet says in the marginal commentary of the poem "they justify the same and thus make themselves accomplishers in the crime." It is the first principle of morality and law that is worse than the sinner is the man who approves of the sin. Thus the Mariners of the ship renders themselves guilty by lending their moral support to the crime. Again, when the ships reaches the equator the wind suddenly dropped down. This ship is becalmed. The sailors suffers terribly from heat and loneliness. They saw to their horror a spectre-ship with its supernatural crew. They hung the dead body of the bird around The Ancient Mariner's neck, in place of the cross and cursed him with the terrible look in their eyes.

      The variable attitude of the Mariners to the crime of The Ancient Mariner is blameworthy. It indicates a want of faith and steadiness on their part. They have no respect for the sanctity of the bird's life. They approves or condemn the killing of the bird, as according to the effect seem to have on their own welfare. This is selfish. Such moral vacillation is highly sinful and implies spiritual deadness. Those who acquiesce in or approve of the sin are doomed to death, without a chance of salvation. But the actual sinner is doomed to Life-in-Death, a state worse than death, in order to suffer and repent and thereby attain salvation. This explains the apparent paradox that the old sailor, who actually kills the bird, is spared to live while the ship's crew perish apparently for no fault of theirs.

      The question may be viewed in another light. It is the old sailor who is the direct sinner while his companions were are accomplices in his crime, because they lean their moral support to it. Hence by the ordinary law of justice the old Mariner who is the actual sinner shall be condemn to death while the accomplices shall be given lesser punishment. But in the higher morality of God, death is a less punishment than Life-in-Death, because the former puts an end to all sufferings. The Mariners end their suffering by death, while the old sailor is doomed to a living death. His life becomes an endless torture and every moment he prays to death to come to him as a welcome relief. But he is denied the blessing of death. Thus his punishment is greater than that of his companions.

      Death and Life-in. Death are the two instruments of punishment in the hands of God. There is a Law of Pity prevailing on the earth. The world is on the side of pity and love and the men who violate these laws are punished by hardness of heart They cannot pray and they cannot bless any creature of the world. All things that God has are beloved to him. God loves those best who love their fellow-men and fellow creatures:

He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and heast.

      Those men who break this law of the universe commit an unpardonable sin. They are either killed or suffer the pangs in life. The ship of The Ancient Mariner has been stuck a midst ice. When an Albatross come through the fog, all hailed the bird with joy and hospitality because with its appearance a good south wind sprang up, the ice split and the helmsman begin to steer the ship through. The Albatross begin to follow the ship. It is perched on the ship for nine days and plays with the sailors. Suddenly the Mariner shot it down. We are not told why. It is obviously a wanton and irresponsible act.

      The guardian spirit began to avenge the Albatross. It sends Death and Life-in-Death to punish the sailors. A skeleton ship approaches them carrying two figures. One is a grim-looking, ghastly skeleton or Nightmare, the personification of Death. The other is Life-in-Death which has red lips, golden locks, and leprous skin. She represents the life-long torture that a sinful man endures on account of the pin-pricks of his conscience. Life-in-Death curdles one's blood by striking terror into the heart of man. The two ghastly crew are playing at dice to determine who will win the Mariner. Life-in-Death wins whereas Death falls upon the sailors.

      The sailors fall down dead. But one may argue that death is not always a curse and life is not always a blessing. The Mariners who dies are spared the horrors and pain that the old Mariner has to suffer. He has to do penance for his sin all through his life.

      As the souls of the sailors departed from their bodies they passes by the Mariner with the whizzing sound of his cross-bow. It is a perpetual reminder to him of his heinous crime. He is left alone on that wide, wide sea. No saint take pity on him and his soul is in perpetual suffering. The sight of the sea become dreadfully ugly. On the deck the timbers of the ship are rotting and heaps of dead men lay on them. He wishes to pray but his impenitent heart will not allow him to pray. God accepts prayer only of those persons whose hearts are softened by tenderness and pity. The very eyes of the dead seemed to curse him and distracted his attention from the thought of God. For seven days he is thus tortured by the thought of his sin but he can not die, as he himself confess.

      It was only after seven days of constant wee that his fate seems to take pity upon his torment soul. In the moonlight, inside the charmed circle of the sea-water reflected by the ship's shadow, he looks with deep interest at the variegated appearance of the water-snakes. Suddenly at the sight of the 'blue, glossy green, and velvet black' snakes a fountain of sympathy and tenderness flows from his heart and he blesses those creatures unawares. This love for the creatures of God is the best of prayers. The ray of pity illumined the darkness of his heart and he became calm and thus able to pray to God who ultimately took pity on him.

      But this recovery of human affection does not end the suffering. It, however, opens the door to the future. The Mariner is haunted by the presence of his dead comrades. Thus pursues by memories and fears, the Mariner becomes a symbol of remorse and often he feels the necessity of repeating his confession.

      Thus we see that of the two tools of punishment that nature, utilises to punish, the instrument of Life-in-Death is much more horrible than Death. Execution kills instantly but Life-in-Death like life-imprisonment kills by degrees. Death is a much more humane executioner because it kills a man in few seconds. But Life-in-Death draws the life out of one incessantly, for years.

University Questions

Give an account of the suffering that came upon The Ancient Mariner after he had killed Albatross. Do you consider the punishment to be proportionate to his crime?
Comment on the attitude of the companions of the Ancient Mariner to the killing of the Albatross. Explain why the Ancient Mariner's life was spared while the companions die apparently for no fault of their own.
Draw the significance of Deaths and Life-in-Death in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner.

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