In the long poem by Samuel Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the mariner talks about an albatross being chained to his neck:

Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.

This doesn't really make much sense though. Assuming it was literal, who chained the dead bird to his neck?

Link to the poem.


Here is the verse in additional context:

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the albatross
About my neck was hung.

Why is the albatross there? Well, it is evidently taking place of "the cross". In the first two lines of this stanza, he speaks of how the people give him "evil looks", that is, disapproving ones. They do this, of course, because they killed the albatross. This was a maritime symbol of good luck. Now, since it has been slain, the mariner most likely willingly put the bird across his neck. I'm not so sure "chained" is the correct word. Whether or not is literal, I'd say, is besides the point. When reading poetry, you read not to read an account of what happened, but rather try to read into the meaning of the text.

Back to the bit about the cross. This text has evidently some type of Christian background. Not to say that it is a Christian poem; the two mentions of Christ's name, on lines 123 and 488 are not so much as invoking Christ as speaking his name. Now, let's take "the cross" to mean the Christian cross. This is a symbol of faith. To say that the slain albatross displaced the cross on his next (or as would be customary to be found on his neck) is most likely a statement about faith: that instead of having faith, the mariner "believes" for the lack of a better term, in luck. So perhaps this albatross could be said to be a statement of faith (rather, the lack thereof).

The quality of said albatross being dead, however, leaves something to think about...


The comparison of the albatross to the cross alludes to the cross not as a symbol of faith, but as a symbol of penance. Remember, Christ was executed on the cross. When the captain killed the bird, the wind calmed and no rain fell, condemning the entire crew to death. The crew hung the dead bird around the captain's neck as a reminder of what he'd done: basically, here's your penance for your crime – a stinking, rotting bird carcass hung around your neck – to remind you every second of every day that you got us into this mess with your arrogance.

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    Of course this is the right answer, the ancient mariner's shipmates hung the bird on his neck as a punishment. But where does it say that the ancient mariner was the captain?? I always thought he was an ordinary seaman. – user14111 Apr 14 '19 at 1:23
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    You might like to edit your post to correct two factual errors. (1) The sailor who shot the bird is not identified as holding any specific rank or role on the ship. (2) You've skipped some of the action. When he killed the bird, the crew first abused him, then praised him when they sailed out of the antarctic cold and fog. It was only much later, after they were becalmed in the Doldrums, that the 200 men realised they were cursed by the mariner's act, and they hung the bird around his neck as you describe. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Apr 14 '19 at 1:30

I'm assuming he did it himself in Part 1:

God save thee, ancient mariner!
From the fiends, that plague thee thus!
Why lookst thou so? With my crossbow
I shot the albatross

It seems he shot the albatross then hung it round his neck as a trophy.

  • That doesn't say anything about it being chained, it gets chained later on? – user72 Jan 18 '17 at 21:59
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    @EasterlyIrk it doesn't say about a chain anywhere actually. So maybe he just hung it round his neck as a trophy – Beastly Gerbil Jan 18 '17 at 22:00
  • "Ah! well a-day! what evil looks" well that sounds dark. I doubt he hung it as a trophy. Maybe somebody else can answer and clear it up though. – user72 Jan 18 '17 at 22:01
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    Agreed with Riker: this doesn't answer the question, which was about who chained the albatross around his neck, not about who shot it. – Rand al'Thor Aug 16 '17 at 23:25
  • @Randal'Thor well if he shot it - that implies that he also hung it around his head? (PS. This was from a long time ago - I can hardly remember posting this :) ) – Beastly Gerbil Aug 17 '17 at 10:53

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