Category Archives: On the syllabus

How Ancient is the Ancient Mariner?

My wife has been teaching the Ancient Mariner to her A-Level set, and over dinner we found ourselves exploring Coleridge’s trickery with tenses.

The outline of the poem we remember is simple: a (present-tense) fable about an old man and a wedding guest book-ends the old man’s much longer (past-tense) story of fall and redemption. We know the poem begins “It is an ancient mariner”, shifts to flashback with “there was a ship”, then finally pulls us back to the present as the wedding guest “goes like one that hath been stunned”.

But the poem we remember isn’t the poem Coleridge wrote. Here are stanzas 3-5 of the 1828 version: Continue reading