Lyrical Ballads: 1798 edition

Description

The first proposal for the book Lyrical Ballads was for a two-volume work. The first would comprise two plays: William Wordsworth’s The Borderers and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Osorio. But this plan was changed so that the book was anonymous and would begin with the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In the preface Wordsworth describes the poem as ‘professedly written in imitation of the style, as well as the spirit of the elder poets’. The poem is introduced as The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, in seven parts. 

The poem was so different from all the other works in the collection that readers had difficulty understanding it. Coleridge used archaic spellings and obsolete words, and an often inverted word order, apparently driven by the need to achieve rhymes:

The Marineres all ‘gan pull the ropes,

But look at me they n’old;

Thought I, I am as thin as air –

They cannot me behold. 

The first reviews found the style and content bewildering, ‘more of the extravagance of a mad German poet, than of the simplicity of our ancient ballad writers’, wrote a reviewer in the Analytical Review in December 1798. An interest in old English ballads or songs had recently been revived and the poem seemed deliberately confusing. The English poet Robert Southey famously wrote, ‘we do not sufficiently understand the story to analyse it,’ (Critical Review, October 1798). 

The following year Wordsworth wrote to the publisher to say he felt the inclusion of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere had been harmful to the Lyrical Ballads, and proposed omitting it from the second edition. 

For the second edition it was moved from the opening position to the penultimate position of the first volume.

Full title:
Lyrical Ballads, with a few other poems
Published:
1798, Bristol
Format:
Book
Creator:
William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Ashley 2250

Related articles

Kubla Khan and Coleridge's exotic language

Article by:
Daljit Nagra
Theme:
Romanticism

Poet Daljit Nagra explains how Coleridge uses language, form and imagery to create the heady exoticism of Kubla Khan.

Wordsworth and the sublime

Article by:
Philip Shaw
Theme:
Romanticism

Professor Philip Shaw explores the role of the sublime in Wordsworth's autobiographical Prelude, explaining how the poet uses the concept to investigate nature, imagination and the divine.

An introduction to Kubla Khan: or A Vision in a Dream

Article by:
Seamus Perry
Theme:
Romanticism

Dr Seamus Perry considers the composition and publication history of Kubla Khan, and explores how Coleridge transforms language into both image and music.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'

Created by: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s (1772-1834) experimental, supernatural poem was originally published in Lyrical ...

'Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802'

Created by: William Wordsworth

‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802’ is a sonnet by William Wordsworth (1770-1850) ...

'I wandered lonely as a cloud'

Created by: William Wordsworth

A lyric poem inspired by an event on 15 April 1802, when William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy came across a ...

The Prelude (Book I)

Created by: William Wordsworth

The subtitle of The Prelude is ‘Growth of a Poet’s Mind’. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) began ...