Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" which can be used as essay starters. All four incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Topic # 1 Superstition in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
In addition to Christian references, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is filled with superstitious elements. For example, when the mariner kills the albatross, his shipmates first curse him because they think the bird brings good luck — for example, it causes the wind to blow. Later, they change their minds and say slaying the bird is right because it had caused the wind to stop and their thirst to begin. Many examples of superstition are in the poem. Discuss two or three.
Topic # 2 The Wedding Guest
At first the mariner significantly annoys the wedding guest whom he stops to relate his harrowing tale. But gradually, gradually the guest becomes so engrossed in the story that he forgets all about the wedding and then finally turns away from the door. Examine the narrative and things that the mariner says about the wedding guest to surmise why he chooses this wedding guest to relay his tale.
Topic # 3 Christian Imagery
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is filled with Christian imagery — even more so than prominent pagan and superstitious elements. For example, there are references to God, to Christ, and the albatross is compared to a cross around the ancient mariners head. When the mariner returns to shore he asks the Hermit to give him penance, and additionally there are references to seraphim (angels). Look at the Christian motif that threads its way through the poem and discuss its implications for the poem’s meaning.
Topic # 4 Blessing the Water Snakes
When the old mariner sees the writhing, oily water snakes and blesses them without even meaning to, the curse begins to lift. After all, his sin seems to be the thoughtless, senseless taking of an innocent life. Through this we see that the chief theme in the poem is God’s love for all things big and small. Discuss how this applies within the context of blessing the water snakes as well as the mariner’s penance for taking the life of the albatross.
“He Prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all."
In these lines the mariner encapsulates the deepest aspect of the story. All the ghosts, dead people, ships, all of it comes down to this simple adage. Nevertheless, it takes a harrowing experience for the mariner to learn it, and it takes a harrowing story for the wedding guest to do the same.
“Ah! well a-day! what evil looks / Had I from old and young! / Instead of the cross, the Albatross / About my neck was hung."
In this quote the poet sets up the mariner as a sort of Christ figure—one with a difference. The mariner is inherently evil at this point in pointlessly taking a life, while Christ is all innocence. Nevertheless, the mariner does take on the sins of his shipmates who were also insensitive to living things.
“Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where
Nor any drop to drink"
This is the most famous quote from the poem. It encapsulates the unendurable desire to have something—rather to have a physical need for something—to be able to see it, but not be able to have it. In this case there is nothing but salt water—no freshwater for the mariner to drink.
“I look'd to Heav'n, and try'd to pray; But or ever a prayer had gusht, A wicked whisper came and made My heart as dry as dust."
At this point, the mariner wants to repent for his wrongdoing, but he is physically unable to. He must endure his punishment much longer.
“The selfmoment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea."
This is one of the key moments in the poem. The curse has finally broken. The mariner was able to freely love some of God’s creatures, the water snakes, and now he can pray. This is the embodiment of his forgiving himself and letting his terrible sin go.
“That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns."
These words spoken by the mariner reflect one of the most interesting and perhaps enigmatic things about the poem, the fact that the old man is absolutely driven to tell his tale, and not just the gist of it, but in deep narrative detail, seeming to leave out nothing. He also comments that he must tell it to the right person, in this case the wedding guest. And the guest’s life seems profoundly changed when he turns from the wedding door and leaves.
“Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold."
This woman playing dice is one of the strangest things the mariner sees. Whether she is real or whether she is a vision is unclear, but she definitely brings a superstitious chill to the poem.
“Beyond the shadow of the ship,
I watched the water-snakes:
They moved in tracks of shining white,
And when they reared, the elfish light
Fell off in hoary flakes."
Of all the creatures the poet could choose for the mariner to “bless," most readers are surprised that it is water snakes. After all, snakes have been a primary symbol of evil in the west for centuries. But Coleridge describes them as very beautiful and holy.
“Within the shadow of the ship
I watched their rich attire:
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coiled 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 gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware:
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware."
It’s interesting to note in this, one of the most significant quotes from the poem, that the mariner notices the water snakes’ beauty, that he blesses them unaware with help from “my kind saint." The entire ordeal that the mariner undoes is to teach him this one simple fact, that God loves his creation, yet he still needs help from “his kind saint" to do what it is he needs to do, love God’s creation and forgive himself.
“And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariners' hollo!"
“In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
It perched for vespers nine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Glimmered the white moon-shine.”
“’God save thee, ancient mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus! –
Why lookst thou so?’ “With my crossbow
I shot the albatross."
This quote is where the central narrative all begins. The ship is sailing along well, and they are visited by what would seem to be the good fortune of an albatross, which they feed. These lines emphasize clearly the senselessness of the mariner’s crass shooting of the innocent albatross.