An abandoned ship (sometimes called a "ghost ship") is covered by rime in the North Sea. Rime is a type of frost that is common in polar conditions, with strong winds and a wet climate.

Photograph by L & A Schaul

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  • In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's long, rhyming poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an old sailor (the ancient mariner) tells the harrowing story of a ship lost at sea. According to the mariner, everything starts off well as the ship and crew leave England.

    The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
    Merrily did we drop
    Below the kirk, below the hill,
    Below the lighthouse top.

    Things go south pretty quickly. Literally—the ship is blown off-course and ends up skirting Antarctica. The ship and crew are in grave danger.

    And now there came both mist and snow,
    And it grew wondrous cold:
    And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
    As green as emerald.

    And through the drifts the snowy clifts
    Did send a dismal sheen:
    Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken
    The ice was all between.

    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!

    The desperate sailors soon find themselves with a good-luck charm, however.

    At length did cross an Albatross,
    Thorough the fog it came;
    As if it had been a Christian soul,
    We hailed it in God's name.

    It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
    And round and round it flew.
    The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
    The helmsman steered us through!

    And a good south wind sprung up behind;
    The Albatross did follow,
    And every day, for food or play,
    Came to the mariner's hollo!

    The audience, to whom the mariner is telling his story, seems relieved. The mariner isn't.

    "God save thee, ancient Mariner!
    From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—
    Why look'st thou so?"-With my crossbow
    I shot the ALBATROSS.

    So . . . he killed the only thing keeping him from a truly gruesome death. Not surprisingly, this turns out to be a bad decision, although—SPOILER ALERT—the mariner does not die.

    He does, however, get to wear the rotting carcass of a giant seabird around his neck.

    And then things get really bad.

    Read the entire poem here.

    (Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1797, published it in 1798, and updated it throughout his life. The text excerpted here is from 1834.)

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    albatross Noun

    type of very large seabird.

    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    carcass Noun

    dead body.

    Christian Noun

    people and culture focused on the teachings of Jesus and his followers.

    cliff Noun

    steep wall of rock, earth, or ice.

    Encyclopedic Entry: cliff
    crossbow Noun

    weapon made of a large bow with a trigger used for releasing the arrow.

    desperate Adjective


    dismal Adjective

    gloomy or sad.

    emerald Noun

    green gem of the mineral beryl.

    fiend Noun

    evil spirit.

    fog Noun

    clouds at ground level.

    Encyclopedic Entry: fog
    food Noun

    material, usually of plant or animal origin, that living organisms use to obtain nutrients.

    Encyclopedic Entry: food
    grave Adjective

    very serious.

    gruesome Adjective

    gross or violent.

    harbor Noun

    part of a body of water deep enough for ships to dock.

    Encyclopedic Entry: harbor
    harrowing Adjective

    extremely disturbing or scary.

    helm Verb

    to lead and manage a ship and ship's crew.

    hollo Noun

    call for attention.

    ice Noun

    water in its solid form.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ice
    ken Verb

    to know or understand.

    kirk Noun

    church (term mostly used in Scotland and northern England).

    lighthouse Noun

    structure displaying large, bright lights to warn and help ships navigate coastal waters.

    literally Adverb

    exactly what is said, without exaggeration.

    mariner Noun


    mast Noun

    tall, pole-like structure rising above the top of a ship, where sails and other rigging are held.

    mist Noun

    clouds at ground-level, but with greater visibility than fog.

    Encyclopedic Entry: mist
    ne'er Adverb


    plague Verb

    to consistently bother, torment, or annoy.

    poem Noun

    written or spoken composition notable for its beauty or rhythm.

    rot Verb

    to decay or spoil.

    sailor Noun

    person who works aboard a ship.

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge Noun

    (1772-1834) English poet.

    sea Noun

    large part of the ocean enclosed or partly enclosed by land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: sea
    seabird Noun

    bird native to an aquatic environment.

    sheen Noun

    shine or brightness.

    skirt Verb

    to pass along the edge of something.

    snow Noun

    precipitation made of ice crystals.

    swound Noun

    swoon, or state of fainting.

    thus Adverb

    in a specific way or manner.