The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part 3: Life-In-Death

This is the third part of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s great poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. For my commentary on and analysis of this third part, scroll down to the bottom.

Navigate to Part: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

PART III– Life-In-Death

“There passed a weary time. Each throat
Was parched, and glazed each eye.
A weary time! a weary time!
How glazed each weary eye -
When looking westward, I beheld
A something in the sky.

At first it seemed a little speck,
And then it seemed a mist;
It moved and moved, and took at last
A certain shape, I wist.

A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered.

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could nor laugh nor wail;
Through utter drought all dumb we stood!
I bit my arm, I sucked the blood,
And cried, A sail! a sail!

With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call:
Gramercy! they for joy did grin,
And all at once their breath drew in,
As they were drinking all.

See! see! (I cried) she tacks no more!
Hither to work us weal;
Without a breeze, without a tide,
She steadies with upright keel!

The western wave was all a-flame,
The day was well nigh done!
Almost upon the western wave
Rested the broad bright sun;
When that strange shape drove suddenly
Betwixt us and the sun.

And straight the sun was flecked with bars,
(Heaven’s Mother send us grace!)
As if through a dungeon-grate he peered
With broad and burning face.

Alas! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears!
Are those her sails that glance in the sun,
Like restless gossameres?

Are those her ribs through which the sun
Did peer, as through a grate?
And is that Woman all her crew?
Is that a Death? and are there two?
Is Death that Woman’s mate?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

The naked hulk alongside came,
And the twain were casting dice;
`The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.

The sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out:
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.

We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip -
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.

One after one, by the star-dogged moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.

The souls did from their bodies fly, -
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my crossbow!”

Navigate to Part: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS

This part resumes where part II left off, with the crew suffering on an idle ship, a deadly calm depriving her of the wind her sails need. Suddenly, another ship arrives– but what is this, how is this other ship moving without any wind?? The strange vessel moves between the sailors and the sun, foreshadowing, perhaps, what is to come. But, horror of horrors, the sailors can still see the sun partially, for the new ship is a skeleton-ship!

When the ship gets close enough, the Ancyent Marinere sees that it has no crew, only two figures: “Death” (perhaps a grim reaper?) and a woman. The woman is revealed to be “The Nightmare Life-in-Death”, and she’s gambling with Death over the soul of the doomed narrator. Life-in-Death wins, meaning that Death will not take him, though it seems Death gets to take the rest of the crew anyway. Life-in-Death only takes the Mariner: under a “star-dogged moon” (a crescent moon with a star by the tip, a universally recognized evil omen), the crew perishes, but the ancient mariner is denied the relief of death.