Pity the Ancient Mariner for he must tell his story over and over to different people or he suffers a “woful agony”. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous ballad poem the ancient Mariner is an old man who grabs a reluctant wedding guest and tells him the compelling narrative of being the only survivor of an ill-fated sailing ship journey when the rest of the crew died of thirst.
For lovers of horror and gothic themes this poem is truly creepy. It even has zombies.
“They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
It had been strange, even in a dream,
To have seen those dead men rise.”
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is like Shakespeare and The Bible in that bits of them keep popping up in everyday language, whether you realise where they come from or not. Do you have slimy things with legs in your kitchen? Then they crawled straight out of the Ancient Mariner. Have you ever had an albatross around your neck? That’s what happened to the poem’s narrator as a punishment for shooting the albatross and bringing a curse down on the entire ship. Was there ever water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink? That was the fate of the Ancient Mariner’s shipmates.
It is a grand adventure that some people feel was the start of the Romantic Movement in literature when it was first published in 1789. It talks about life, death, faith, friendship, and the supernatural. Its story, themes, and images have been used time and time again in other works of literature, art, and movies, in everything from Douglas Adam’s comic novel The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul to the heavy metal band Iron Maiden’s Powerslave.
If you have never read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner all the way through, try it and you may be surprised at how many phrases you recognise. If you had read it as a long-ago school assignment, revisit it and wait for the shivers down your spine.
The library owns several copies. In addition to several anthologies, we have annotated versions with copious background notes. My personal favorite is the stand-alone edition illustrated by Ed Young with haunting monochromatic charcoal and color pastel spreads. It is housed in the children’s section and older children can enjoy its creepiness but adults will also find that the illustrations add depth to the story.
Check the WRL catalog for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner