Reading No. 2Jump to the latest reading

Jeremy Irons
Recorded at Bath Priory, Somerset

Glenn Brown
The Shallow End
Oil on panel

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

The Bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May'st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born 21 October 1772, at Ottery St Mary, Devon, where his father was the vicar. As a young man at Jesus College, Cambridge, he won a prize for his poem protesting the slave trade, and briefly absconded to enlist in the dragoons under the alias, Silas Tomkyn Comberbache; he spent most of his time falling off his horse and was officially discharged for being 'insane'. After leaving Cambridge he and Robert Southey tried to set up a utopian settlement in Pennsylvania, but this faltered. He married Sara Fricker in Bristol in 1795, and became close friends with William and Dorothy Wordsworth.

It was with William, on long walks in Somerset, that 'The Rime' was born, along with 'Kubla Khan', the extremity of their visions indebted to Coleridge's addiction to opium. With his marriage failing and his friendship with Wordsworth at a sorry end, Coleridge acquired the reputation of a brilliant speaker whose poetic career had lost its way. He was fascinated by the multiplicity of things and saw himself as a library cormorant, greedy for knowledge; Charles Lamb called him 'an archangel slightly damaged'. Coleridge died in London in 1834, numbed and dragged down by the drug that had inspired his soaring literary flights.

Philip Hoare