The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: A long poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), published in Lyrical Ballads (1798), his joint collaboration with William Wordsworth. The poem opens with the Ancient Mariner buttonholing a guest at a wedding to tell him his tale. Having shot an albatross (traditionally bad luck at sea), the Ancient Mariner and his shipmates were subjected to fearful penalties. On repentance he was forgiven, and on reaching land told his story to a hermit. At times, however, distress of mind drives him from land to land, and wherever he stays he tells his story of woe, to warn against cruelty and to persuade men to love God’s creatures.

The story is partly based on a dream told by Coleridge’s friend George Cruikshank, and partly gathered from his reading. Wordsworth told him the story of the privateer George Shelvocke, who shot an albatross while rounding Cape Horn in 1720, and was dogged by bad weather thereafter. Other suggested sources are Thomas James’s Strange and Dangerous Voyage (1683) and the Letter of St Paulinus to Macarius, In Which He Relates Astounding Wonders Concerning the Shipwreck of an Old Man (1618). A full examination of the possible sources is to be found in The Road to Xanadu (1927) by J.L. Lowes.

‘The Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.’

Samuel Butler, Notebooks (1912)”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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