Use of Supernatural Elements in Coleridge's 'The Ancient Mariner'

The greatness of S. T. Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner lies chiefly in the technique by which the supernatural has been made believable and convincing. There are a number of impossible, incredible, and fantastic situations in the poem. The fascinating power in Mariner’s gaze, the sudden appearance of the mysterious skeleton ship, the spectre- woman and her mate, the coming back of life to the dead crew, the sudden sinking of the ship, the polar spirits talking to each other- all these and other supernatural incidents are scattered in the poem. With these supernatural elements the poet has artistically interwoven convincing pictures of Nature like the sun shining brightly at the outset, the mist and snow surrounding the ship, the freezing cold of the Artic region, slimy creatures creeping upon the sea, the moon going up the sky with a star or two beside it, the water snakes moving in the water in a variety of colors. The natural and supernatural, the real and fantastic, the possible ad the impossible have been so skillfully and artistically mingled that the whole strikes us as quite convincing and credible.

The setting of the poem is natural, known to all. With a view to giving his story an air of plausibility, Coleridge gives accurate description of his nature. In the AM every phase of landscape, seascape and cloudscape is touched upon. The bright sun, the “Kirk” or church, the hill, the lighthouse, the cheerful onlookers at the harbor, the wedding guest, the marriage ceremony, the storm blast in the sea, the mist and snow of the Arctic region and many other natural elements are there in the setting of the story. All these natural phenomena have been made very convincing.

In this natural setting are set the supernatural incidents. A terrible storm hit and forced the ship southwards. The “storm blast” was “tyrannous and strong’ and struck the ship with”overtaking wings”. Then the sailors reached a calm patch of sea that was “wondrous cold” full of snow and glistering green icebergs” as tall as the ship’s mast.

And now there came both mist and snow,

And it grew wondrous cold

The sailors were the only living things in this frightening, enclosed world where the ice made terrible groaning sounds that echoed all around.

The ice was here, the ice was there,

The ice was all around :

It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,

Like noises in a swound !

In his Ancient Mariner, Coleridge often blends the real and unreal in order to create a supernatural world. Here we see the story at first is given a known, familiar setting but soon it passes into an unreal world. The reader is not disturbed by this smooth transition from the real to the unreal world but indulges himself in the “willing suspension of disbelief”.

However, finally an albatross emerged from the mist, and the sailors received it as a sign of good luck, as though it were a “Christian soul” sent by God to save them. No sooner than the sailors fed the albatross did the ice break apart, allowing the captain to steer out of the freezing world. The wind picked up again and continued for nine days. All the while the bird followed the ship, ate the food the sailors gave it and played with them. But at this favorable moment the mariner did a hellish thing. He shot the bird with his cross bow.

From the moment the mariner kills the bird retribution comes in the form of natural phenomena. The wind dies, the sun intensifies and it will not rain. The ocean becomes “revolting”, “rotting” and “thrashing” with “slimy” creatures and sizzling with strange fires.

Coleridge depicts tactfully how nature punishes supernaturally for killing its innocent member. Before the sun was “bright” but now it has become “the bloody sun.” in a “hot and copper sky”.

All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody Sun, at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the Moon.

The nature continues punishing the mariners. The wind refuses to blow, and the sun’s relentless heat chars the men.

Day after day, day after day,

We stuck, nor breathe nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean


This hot sun makes the mariners thirsty but they have no drinkable water.

Water, water, every where,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, every where,

Nor any drop to drink.

The mariner lives like Tantalus. They need water badly and it is all around them but it is entirely undrinkable. The throats became “unslaked” and “lips baked” under the hot sun.

We could not speak, no more than if

We had been choked with soot.

The shipmates, in their sore distress, throw the whole guilt on the ancient Mariner and in sign they hang the dead sea-bird round his neck.

‘Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.’

The time is weary and long. They have nothing to do but suffer only.

A weary time ! a weary time !

How glazed each weary eye,

When looking westward, I beheld

A something in the sky.


A mysterious ship arrives. When the ship is sighted in the distance, the sailors feel happy to think that the will now get water to quench their burning thirst.

‘I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,

And cried, A sail ! a sail !’


But in a few moments they discover the reality of the ship. The crew consists of Death and Life- in- death.

The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,

Who thicks man's blood with cold.


Coleridge beautifully depicts the mental suffering of the Mariner under this condition:-

“Fear at my heart, as at a cup
My life blood seemed to sip.”

The suffering becomes even more painful when all his fellow men dropped down one by one. And the soul of each passes by him with the sound like that of his arrow that killed the Albatross.

“They dropped down one by one.”

For seven days and nights the mariner remained alone on the ship.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,

Alone on a wide wide sea !


The dead sailors, who miraculously did not rot, continued to curse him with their open eyes which intensified his inner guilt.

Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,

And yet I could not die.

His surroundings- the ship, the ocean, and the creatures within it are “rotting’ in the heat and sun, but he is the one who is rotten on the inside.

Coleridge beautifully portrays how he suffer from acute mental distress when he tried to pray but could not do so, how he felt the horror of the curse in the dead men’s eyes, how the sky and the sea lay like a heavy load on his weary eyes, and how finally he felt relief. This is exactly what any man would suffer under similar circumstances. By portraying mariner’s mental states, Coleridge produces the realistic effect.

During his lonely days he spent his times by watching the little creatures on the ice. The mariner spontaneously recognizes the beauty of the sea snakes, his heart fills with love for them and he can bless them “unaware”


“A spring of love gushed from my heart,

And I blessed them unaware”


Only when the mariner is able to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, he is granted the ability to pray. The moment he begins to view the natural world benevolently, his spiritual thirst is quenched. As a sign, the albatross- the burden of sin falls from his neck.

‘The Albatross fell off, and sank

Like lead into the sea.’


It finally rains and his thrust is quenched.

‘My lips were wet, my throat was cold,

My garments all were dank”

The ship suddenly began to move towards the native land of the old sailor. Ultimately the ship reached near the harbor. It sank suddenly and the old sailor was rescued from the disaster.

Thus from the above discussion it is quite clear that, the triumph of “The rime of the ancient Mariner” confines in presenting a series of incredible events in a convincing and credible way by the use of natural setting, logic of cause and effect, melody and psychological truth.

During his lonely days he spent his times by watching the little creatures on the ice. The mariner spontaneously recognizes the beauty of the sea snakes, his heart fills with love for them and he can bless them “unaware” Only when the mariner is able to appreciate the beauty of the natural world, he is granted the ability to pray. The moment he begins to view the natural world benevolently, his spiritual thirst is quenched. As a sign, the albatross- the burden of sin falls from his neck. It finally rains and his thrust is quenched. The ship suddenly began to move towards the native land of the old sailor. Ultimately the ship reached near the harbor. It sank suddenly and the old sailor was rescued from the disaster.

Thus from the above discussion it is quite clear that, the triumph of “The rime of the ancient Mariner” confines in presenting a series of incredible events in a convincing and credible way by the use of natural setting, logic of cause and effect, melody and psychological truth.