Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
1798

Frail opium addict Coleridge certainly left his impact on literature and literary criticism. He helped to bring ideas associated with German idealism into English thought, he had a profound influence on the rise of transcendentalism,  and the phrase “suspension of disbelief” was coined by him. And, of course, he and friend William Wordsworth are credited with founding one of the most significant  schools of English poetry, the Romantics. Emotionally unstable, politically radical, the “giant among dwarves”, as he was known, was more the craftsman than his peers, meticulously editing and wordsmithing his work, influencing those like Shelley and Wordsworth whose fame out-shone his own.

Transgression, pride, salvation, penance – these are the themes. “Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” – this is the best-known line of the poem and has found its way into common parlance. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – Coleridge’s most famous work (though “Kubla Kahn” certainly competes for that honour)recounts the story of a sailor who kills an albatross following a storm and the curse that falls upon he and his shipmates in the wake of his sin. One by one his comrades fall dead around him, the mariner who brought this upon them condemned to watch, to live himself, and now to spend the remainder of his life doing penance, wandering the earth and serving as a living reminder to love all of creation.  It’s a classic, without doubt, and gorgeous editions with etchings and amazing illustrations can be found. Or, for something a little different, you can listen to 13-plus minutes of the poem-turned- heavy-metal-song by British metal band Iron Maiden – sure helped me out in high school lit class! And so so awesome.

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