Birth Of The Rime

William Wordsworth


For example, some crime was to be committed which would bring upon the Old Navigator, as Coleridge afterwards delighted to call him, the spectral persecution . . . and his own wanderings. I had been reading in Shelvocke’s Voyages, a day or two before, that, while doubling Cape Horn, they frequently saw albatrosses in that latitude, the largest sort of sea-fowl . . . “Suppose,” said I, “you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime.” The incident was thought fit for the purpose and adopted accordingly.

We have now arrived at the conclusion of Mariner’s Part One.  In this section we gained appreciation for the context of Samuel Coleridge’s life through the relationships and events leading up to the composition of The Rime.  Like many great works, it was born through process and refined over time, even subsequent to its initial publication.

Malcolm Guite explains:

As Wordsworth remarked many years later, “The Ancient Mariner, grew and grew until it became too important for our first object and we began to think of a volume.” That volume was the Lyrical Ballads, of which The Ancient Mariner was the first poem in the first edition. By the time the poets returned from this brief tour, the poem was a ballad of some three hundred lines, but it is clear that, by this time, Coleridge’s imagination was fully engaged and the deepest springs of his inspiration were open and flowing. He took the poem back with him to Nether Stowey and worked on it throughout the end of that year, through the New Year and into the first days of spring, until four months later, on 23 March 1798, he would read to William and Dorothy a poem of over six hundred lines, which was the whole of The Ancient Mariner, substantially as we have it, though he would continue to revise and refine this poem for the rest of his life. Even the version in Poetical Works of 1834, the year of his death, has minor revisions. And of course, the publication of the poem in Sibylline Leaves of 1817, whose two-hundredth anniversary this book celebrates, added the famous gloss which brings out some of the depths in the poem that Coleridge himself only saw as he began to live them.

Have you worked and reworked a piece of writing for a long time?




Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief