No Moral Miracle: A Reading of 'The Ancient Mariner'

G.L. Little


Questions about the nature of evil and retribution and speculation about the figure of the cursed or damned man were much in Wordsworth's and Coleridge's minds up to the writing of The Ancient Mariner. Coleridge's many unrealized schemes had included a poem on Evil, and at about the time of the Mariner he made a note of the topic of the Wandering Jew, a character then in vogue. Wordsworth had recently completed The Borderers and written an introductory essay on crime, moral scepticism and superstition; some of the imagery of the play seems to have left its mark on the Mariner, and at the opening there is a remark about "some dark deed to which in early life His passion drove him-then a Voyager Upon the midland sea." Other examples could be given of their sustained interest in such issues. Against that background their own recollections of the beginnings of the poem, together with their own and others' early responses to it, become of interest. Familiar as some of these materials are to the biographer, they suggest issues which criticism should have before it.

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