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Williams, A.H. (1986). ‘The Ancient Mariner’ opium, the saboteur of self-therapy. Free Associations, 1(6):123-144.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(6):123-144

‘The Ancient Mariner’ opium, the saboteur of self-therapy

Arthur Hyatt Williams

I have always been interested in ‘The Ancient Mariner’. On the one hand it is in extremely direct ballad form and on the other it is subtle telling of crime and punishment, envy, spite, malice and atonement. Some of the murderers whom I have treated reach the kind of state in which Coleridge seems to have been in his deep inner world.1 During the writing of the poem what had started off as being a light-hearted effort got more and more serious and Coleridge became more and more involved in it. Well on in treatment also, a number of prisoners serving life sentences started to write poetry. A morphine addict to whom I gave psychoanalysis for many years, seemed often to be in the psychic state of the Ancient Mariner, concerning the same kind of things - killing, letting die, being responsible for disaster by intention and by irresponsibility in certain circumstances.

‘The Ancient Mariner’ was the second major poem which began with an attempt by Coleridge at collaboration with William Wordsworth. The first was the ‘Wanderings of Cain’ in which Coleridge drafted the first canto; Wordsworth managed to do nothing and finally the whole project was abandoned. ‘The Ancient Mariner’ was also intended as a ‘pot-boiler’. In rather cold dismal November weather in 1797, Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and Coleridge set off on a walking tour in North Somerset and Devon, covering part of Exmoor and the Quantocks. They set out from Allfoxden, where Wordsworth lived. The poem was intended, in a fairly light-hearted way, to earn them five pounds which would pay for the tour. It was to be a collaborative effort, but Coleridge became more and more interested in it. It soon became a larger and more serious work, and Coleridge raced ahead of Wordsworth.

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