"The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and was first published in 1798 in a longer book by the author titled Lyrical Ballads (Abrams and Greenblatt, 422). "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner" is probably Coleridge's best known poem among contemporary readers. Written in seven parts, it tells the story of how an aged sailor encounters a man on his way to a wedding and tells him a frightening story with the intent of providing this wedding guest with a warning about the kind of fate that may await him should he not change his behavior in some key way.
The ancient mariner describes what happened to him when he and his shipmates were becalmed in the water and he killed an albatross, a bird that is sacred to sailors and which must not be killed or otherwise hurt. Because he has killed this bird, the entire ship of sailors is condemned to death and to a ghostly encounter with a ship carrying the dead. Unfortunately for him, the ancient mariner is spared as Death and Life-in-Death throw the dice to see which will possess him. He has been condemned to move forever in the world of the living telling them of the curse that he brought on himself and accosting those who are in danger of doing something sufficiently terrible to render themselves cursed as well.
The message of Coleridge's poem is that men often arrive at a seminal point in their lives in which they are able to choose between an action that is clearly wrong and one that is clearly right. Depending on the choice that they make, they will either live or die. Incumbent upon the ancient mariner after his own transgression was to move through the world of the truly living and to teach, by means of his own example, love and reverence to all things that God made and also loves (Abrams and Greenblatt, 438).
In fulfilling this mission, the ancient mariner has selected the wedding guest as a man who is desperately in need hearing this story. ...