Illustrated by Harry Brockway
The Folio Society edition of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner features four sublime poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Each is illustrated by the acclaimed wood-engraver Harry Brockway.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the most innovative and influential of all the English Romantic poets. This beautiful edition emulates our popular limited edition, with four immortal poems superbly illustrated by Harry Brockway, one of the UK’s leading wood-engravers. A striking binding design by the artist and a blocked slipcase make this the perfect vessel for Coleridge’s fantastical journeys.
This supernatural ballad was conceived as Coleridge walked in the Quantock Hills with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. From this initial inspiration Coleridge laboured for five months, changing a traditional ballad stanza into an astonishingly flexible and musical unit of varying length. Lyrical Ballads, his collaboration with Wordsworth, opened with ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. It became the keynote of the book, indeed of English Romanticism as a whole.
The poem is a gripping tale of death, damnation and expiation. But it is also an allegory of sin and repentance, a mystical account of man’s fall from Grace through the symbolic killing of an innocent creature. For some critics, the mariner represents the poet himself: Coleridge wrote of his ‘Mind shipwrecked by storms of doubt, now mastless, rudderless, shattered, – pulling in the dead swell of a dark and windless Sea’. Just like the wedding guest, halted by the mariner and unable to break away, the reader is entranced by this visionary poem.
When Lord Byron heard Coleridge recite the astonishingly powerful ‘Kubla Khan’, he used his influence to ensure its publication. The edition also included ‘Christabel’ and ‘The Pains of Sleep’. It was a daring decision: both ‘Christabel’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ were elusive ‘fragments’, as Coleridge named them. Yet it was their very unfinished nature that made them so captivating.
‘Christabel’ is a gothic masterpiece: obscure terrors lurk outside a lonely castle; a beautiful woman with a demonic soul undresses in the moonlight; a snake coils about a white dove … Coleridge’s enigmatic symbols defy easy explanation, but compel readers to return again and again to these shadowy nightmare scenes.
The wondrous images of ‘Kubla Khan’ need no introduction. Coleridge saw visions of such intensity during an opium-laced dream that, on waking, he began instantly to write, but was interrupted by ‘a person from Porlock’. On returning to his desk he was unable to recapture the remainder of his vision.
The final poem, ‘The Pains of Sleep’, is one of Coleridge’s most personal, written during a nightmare-ridden period of withdrawal from laudanum, the drug to which he was addicted. It is an outpouring that uncovered his deepest soul, his sense of wasted promise and guilt, and his desperate, childlike yearning for love.
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