The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, perhaps the greatest narrative poem in the English language, was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (pictured) in 1797-1798 at the early age of 25-26.
It is possibly one of the most evocative sea poems ever written, the result of reading many of old travel books and accounts of sea voyages in exotic lands. Here is the cult classic reading of the poem by Richard Burton, a recitation that has never been equalled. Don’t be put off by the irritating background music with which the poem opens; thankfully, this only lasts a minute or two.
Coleridge is equally well known for his shorter poem Kubla Khan, also written in 1797. This was the result of an opium inspired dream. Composing the poem in a fever of inspiration, while still under the influence of opium, the young poet was disturbed by a knock on the door. He went to see who the visitor was — to be known to future generations as “the gentleman from Porlock”. After this man had conducted his business and left, the poet did his best to continue with his writing. Unfortunately, he was unable to resume where he had left off, his inspiration having evaporated. The lines he was about to jot down on paper had been wiped clean from his memory by the unfortunate interruption. So what we have here is a fragment: the first 54 lines of a poem that was originally meant to be 200-300 lines.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is easily superior to Kubla Khan. It is not only profoundly moving in its simplicity, with a haunting musicality all its own, but has been chiselled to perfection by a consummate wordsmith over an extended period of time, no doubt undergoing repeated revisions. And thus it achieves its exquisitely gemmed perfection. Almost every line is now memorable and quotable. [LD]