British Library Presents The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is an exhibition that explores one of the best-known English poems written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1835). On view now through 27 February 2011.

Drawn from the British Library’s unique collection of manuscripts, printed books and sound recordings, the exhibition examines the poem within the wider context of Coleridge’s life and explores his crucial role, along with that of his friend William Wordsworth, as a founding member of the Romantic Movement in England.

First published in 1798, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ tells the tale of a mariner’s nightmarish journey to the ends of the Earth. The poem deals with the universal themes of sin, guilt, remorse and redemption and its insight into the human condition has provided inspiration for writers, artists and musicians for over 200 years. The exhibition looks at modern interpretations of the poem and highlights the work of illustrators and writers who have been inspired by its vivid imagery.

Highlights of the exhibition include the 1798 first edition of the Lyrical Ballads (in which ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ first appeared) and two of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s own notebooks. Notebook 11 contains re-workings of the poem (lines 201-212, dated 1806) and Notebook 2 contains details of a walking tour of Cumbria in 1802, providing a fascinating record of his random thoughts and observations.

A man of remarkable intellect with an inquiring spirit, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a literary critic, philosopher, writer, journalist and public lecturer. His friend William Wordsworth, co-author of the Lyrical Ballads, hailed him as ‘the most wonderful man I ever knew’. Deeply learned and widely read, Coleridge took an exalted view of his art, asserting that ‘The Poet is the man made to solve the riddle of the Universe’, who ‘brings the whole soul of man into activity’.

Image: Illustration to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, published by The Folio Society. Copyright © Harry Brockway 2010

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