To one degree or another, most of us study the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in high school or college. As best that I can remember, my first exposure to Coleridge and this poem was in twelfth-grade English, maybe a little sooner. During that time, I’d read at least some portion of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which is lengthy, but I couldn’t honestly say that I’d read the complete poem from start to finish. For that reason, I put this poem on my “bucket list” a few years ago.
A number of years ago, I purchased an unabridged copy of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems,” which was published by Dover Thrift Editions in 1992. This book has sat on my shelf (unread) for years, but last Thursday I took it down and read it from cover to cover. Between its covers, you’ll find the poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” on Pages 5-23.
For those of you unfamiliar with “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” it was written in 1797-1798 and was originally published in 1798 in “Lyrical Ballads,” a book of poems that Coleridge co-authored with his famous buddy, William Wordsworth. This long poem is the story of an old, cursed sailor who’s telling his sad tale a young man on his way to a wedding. The sailor has returned from a long sea voyage to Antarctica in which he brought down death and destruction on his ship by shooting an albatross, a bird believed to be good luck.
This poem is cool for a lot of reasons. In addition to being a strange tale of seafaring adventure, it reads almost like a ghost story, complete with a “ghost ship,” weird spirits seen gambling for the souls of the crew, strange sea creatures, zombies, whirlpools and crazed rescuers. It reads almost like a warning to anyone who feels like tampering with mother nature, especially albatrosses.
In addition to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the 1992 Dover Thrift Edition of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems” contained a number of Coleridge’s other poems. Those other poems include “To the Author of ‘The Robbers,’” “Sonnet: To a Friend Who Asked, How I Felt When the Nurse First Presented My Infant to Me,” “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” “The Dungeon,” “On a Ruined House in a Romantic Country,” “Christabel,” “Frost at Midnight,” “France: An Ode,” “Lewti; or, The Circassian Love-Chaunt,” “Fears in Solitude,” “The Nightingale,” “Kubla Khan,” “The Ovidian Elegiac Metre,” “Something Childish, but Very Natural,” “Love,” “Dejection: An Ode,” “The Pains of Sleep,” “To William Wordsworth,” “The Knight’s Tomb,” “On Donne’s Poetry,” “Youth and Age” and “Cologne.” Of those, I’d say my two favorites are “Kubla Khan” and “Christabel.”
In the end, how many of you have read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” from start to finish? What did you think about it? Let us know in the comments section below.