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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a long poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797-1798 and published in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads (1798). It is the longest significant poem that Coleridge wrote.

Written in language that imitates the Anglo-Scots border ballads, it relates the supernatural events experienced by a solitary mariner. Its most famous episode is the mariner's unexplained killing of an albatross.

There is no conventional plot, as the poem consists largely of descriptions of what the mariner sees. Interpreting the poem along moral or religious lines has proved difficult. There are suggestions that the mariner is punished for killing the albatross, but the relationship between this, the only real action of the poem, and what follows is unclear.

The poem may have been inspired by James Cook's second voyage of exploration (1772-1775) of the south seas and the Pacific Ocean; Coleridge's tutor William Wales was astronomer on the Resolution (Cook's flagship) and had a strong relationship with Cook. On his second voyage Cook plunged repeatedly below the Antarctic circle to determine whether the fabled great southern continent existed.

When Wordsworth and Coleridge planned the scheme for Lyrical Ballads, it was agreed that Wordsworth would contribute poems describing common life and Coleridge would contribute poems on supernatural themes. It is useful to keep this in mind when examining this poem.

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The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is also the title of a song by Iron Maiden, a 14-minute heavy metal epic based on Coleridge's poem. As a literary adaptation it is probably not meant to be taken altogether seriously, although it can be taken as a short version of the story in the poem.