“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was first published in 1798 with other Coleridge poems and poems by William Wordsworth. The collection was entitled Lyrical Ballads, and “Mariner” was by far the longest poem. The collection was originally planned as the first in a two-volume series, but Wordsworth and Coleridge changed plans and published the first volume anonymously.
It is not an understatement to say that Lyrical Ballads changed poetry forever. What is less well known, except among Coleridge biographers and teachers, is that “Mariner” was written as part of a five-year burst of creativity by the poet. In fact, all of the poems we know as Coleridge’s were written in this five-year period. Coleridge did edit the poem for the next 20 years, and he provided his own extensive commentary on it, but those five years (1797-1802) saw the sum total of Coleridge’s poetic output.
The impact of “Mariner” is still felt today. It is one of those poems that have continued to resonate over the generations, although for often very different reasons. It is a poem that allows us to read into it the burning questions of the day, and our own individual journeys through life. Cambridge professor and chaplain Malcolm Guite has discovered something else: the poem, although written when Coleridge was 25, is a remarkable guide to the full span of Coleridge’s life. It’s as if “Mariner” foreshadowed what was to come in the poet’s life.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.
Illustration: One of Gustave Dore’s engravings for “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”