Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Iron Maiden Lyrics Meaning – Navigating Uncharted Waters of Sin and Redemption

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Iron Maiden's Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Lyrics.org.
Article Contents:
  1. Music Video
  2. Lyrics
  3. Song Meaning


Hear the rime of the ancient mariner
See his eye as he stops one of three
Mesmerizes one of the wedding guests
Stay here and listen to the nightmares of the sea

And the music plays on, as the bride passes by
Caught by his spell and the mariner tells his tale

Driven south to the land of the snow and ice
To a place where nobody’s been
Through the snow fog flies on the albatross
Hailed in God’s name, hoping good luck it brings

And the ship sails on, back to the North
Through the fog and ice and the albatross follows on

The mariner kills the bird of good omen
His shipmates cry against what he’s done
But when the fog clears, they justify him
And make themselves a part of the crime

Sailing on and on and north across the sea
Sailing on and on and north ’til all is calm

The albatross begins with its vengeance
A terrible curse a thirst has begun
His shipmates blame bad luck on the mariner
About his neck, the dead bird is hung

And the curse goes on and on at sea
And the curse goes on and on for them and me

“Day after day, day after day
We stuck nor breath nor motion
As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean
Water, water everywhere and
All the boards did shrink
Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink”

There calls the mariner
There comes a ship over the line
But how can she sail with no wind in her sails and no tide

See, onward she comes
Onward she nears out of the sun
See, she has no crew
She has no life, wait but here’s two

Death and she life in death
They throw their dice for the crew
She wins the mariner and he belongs to her now
Then, crew one by one
They drop down dead, two hundred men
She, she, life in death
She lets him live, her chosen one

“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 curse it lives on in their eyes
The mariner he wished he’d die
Along with the sea creatures
But they lived on, so did he

And by the light of the moon
He prays for their beauty not doom
With heart he blesses them
God’s creatures all of them too

Then the spell starts to break
The albatross falls from his neck
Sinks down like lead into the sea
Then down in falls comes the rain

Hear the groans of the long dead seamen
See them stir and they start to rise
Bodies lifted by good spirits
None of them speak and they’re lifeless in their eyes

And revenge is still sought, penance starts again
Cast into a trance and the nightmare carries on

Now the curse is finally lifted
And the mariner sights his home
Spirits go from the long dead bodies
Form their own light and the mariner’s left alone

And then a boat came sailing towards him
It was a joy he could not believe
The pilot’s boat, his son and the hermit
Penance of life will fall onto him

And the ship it sinks like lead into the sea
And the hermit shrives the mariner of his sins

The mariner’s bound to tell of his story
To tell this tale wherever he goes
To teach God’s word by his own example
That we must love all things that God made

And the wedding guest’s a sad and wiser man
And the tale goes on and on and on

Full Lyrics

Iron Maiden, a band synonymous with the confluence of literature and heavy metal, crafted an epic odyssey in ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ a track that is much more than a mere retelling of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem. It is a layered tale woven into the fabric of melodic harmony and electric frenzy, encompassing much deeper human experiences and emotions.

Folding in the British lore with their own heavy metal sensibilities, Iron Maiden forges an introspective examination of guilt, consequence, and the ultimate quest for absolution. The shipboard narrative is anchored firmly to a philosophical seabed, with the band members channeling both the mariner’s voice and the dramatic intensity of his journey.

Unleashing the Storm: The Albatross as a Harbinger

The song’s dramatic opening lines reverberate with portent, as they depict the ancient mariner interrupting a wedding to recount his ominous sea tale. These lyrics set into motion a story of both warning and wisdom, summoning the audience, much like the wedding guest in the poem, to bear witness to the cautionary tale.

As the albatross emerges from the icy mists, it is a yet another music-driven revelation, steeping the narrative in mysticism. The creature, both omen and guide, captivates the listener’s imagination, setting the stage for the tragic and impulsive act that serves as the fulcrum for the ensuing drama.

The Heavy Burden of Consequence: Crime Against Nature

Iron Maiden intensifies the weight of the mariner’s actions with their characteristic powerhouse riffs, as the killing of the albatross is not just a crime against the bird but against nature itself. The imagery evoked by these middle verses is a bold critique on human hubris and its catastrophic effects.

The marking of the mariner’s guilt with the dead albatross around his neck is portrayed with visceral urgency. One can almost feel the heavy pendulum of the guitar’s rhythm swinging like the ominous symbol of retribution that is the mariner’s newfound talisman.

The Powerlessness of ‘Water, Water Everywhere’

Perhaps one of the most haunting and resonant lines of the song, and indeed the poem, ‘Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink,’ is given a fresh breath of horror with Iron Maiden’s intense musical dramatization. It encapsulates the essence of human despair and the irony of being surrounded by abundance yet unable to partake.

This line is a merciless mirror to the mariner’s—and by extension, humanity’s—predicament. It highlights the futility of wealth or resources when the very essentials that sustain life are unattainable, setting an anthem for environmental and existential concerns.

Life in Death: The Supernatural Dance of Doom

Iron Maiden twists the mythic with the mortal in the chilling roll call of the dead crew’s fate. They opt for a narrative crescendo, with Steve Harris’s bass lines ominously embodying the relentless roll of dice that decide each sailor’s fate, culminating in the unnatural coupling of Death and Life-in-Death.

This supernatural gambit highlights the sometimes arbitrary nature of mortality and the haunting specter of fate that hovers over human endeavors. The eerie solace granted to the living dead, chosen by Life-in-Death, sets a contrapuntal motif, both comforting and deeply disturbing.

The Lifting Curse: A Rain of Redemption

The shifting tide of the mariner’s narrative, alchemized by Iron Maiden’s commanding sound, speaks to the transformative power of penitence and recognition. As the albatross drops into the sea, so does the burden it represents, and the mariner’s change of heart invites a deluge of cleansing rain; literally and symbolically, washing away the sin.

The circling harmonies of guitar solos in the latter portions of the song reflect the whirl of spiritual renewal. This epic resolution softens into the mariner’s solitary return, the weight of his tale a phantom albatross that assures his redemption is an ongoing journey, rather than a destination reached.

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