© 2016

Coleridge's Ancient Mariner


  • Situates the "Ancient Mariner" within the context of Coleridge's entire oeuvre, from his philosophy to theology

  • Analyzes the literary legacy of Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" through a wide range of critical approaches and contexts from New Criticism to its relation with experimental poetry

  • Traces the poem's history in the several versions published in Coleridge's lifetime through later versions found in illustrated editions and educational textbooks


Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xiv
  2. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 1-24
  3. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 25-46
  4. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 47-70
  5. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 71-92
  6. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 93-115
  7. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 117-137
  8. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 139-162
  9. J. C. C. Mays
    Pages 163-184
  10. Back Matter
    Pages 185-267

About this book


This is the first book-length study to read the "Ancient Mariner" as "poetry," in Coleridge's own particular sense of the word. Coleridge's complicated relationship with the "Mariner" as an experimental poem lies in its origin as a joint project with Wordsworth. J. C. C. Mays traces the changes in the several versions published in Coleridge's lifetime and shows how Wordsworth's troubled reaction to the poem influenced its subsequent interpretation. This is also the first book to situate the "Mariner" in the context of the entirety of Coleridge's prose and verse, now available in the Bollingen Collected edition and Notebooks; that is, not only in relation to other poems like "The Ballad of the Dark Ladiè" and "Alice du Clós," but also to ideas in his literary criticism (especially Biographia Literaria), philosophy, and theology. Using a combination of close reading and broad historical considerations, reception theory, and book history, Mays surveys the poem's continuing life in illustrated editions and educational textbooks; its passage through the vicissitudes of New Criticism and critical theory; and, in a final chapter, its surprising affinities with some experimental poems of the present time. 


1 Coleridge 2 Nineteenth-century British literature 3 Poetic authorship 4 Ancient Mariner 5 Reception

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity College DublinDublinIreland

About the authors

J. C. C. Mays is Professor Emeritus of English and American Literature at University College Dublin, Ireland.

Bibliographic information


“All present and future readers of Coleridge’s poetry will be indebted to Mays for having so thoroughly and incisively taken the measure of the language of Coleridge’s poetry … .” (Charles Mahoney, Studies in Romanticism, Vol. 58 (1), 2019)