Coleridge drafted the first version of The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere (as it was then called) between November 1797 and March 1798, but subsequently kept tinkering with it. The number of separate versions is at least eighteen, though a dozen or so of these contain only minor differences. In his successive revisions from one text to another, Coleridge dropped some sixty lines and added (not necessarily as replacements) another twenty; removed most of the archaic spellings and words that were such a distinctive feature of the first published text in Lyrical Ballads (1798) and were much noticed, and universally disliked, by reviewers; dropped a prose Argument that was printed on a separate page before the beginning of the verse in the first two editions of Lyrical Ballads (1798 and 1800); made changes in the title and subtitle; altered the wording of the poem here and there all through the text; added a lengthy epigraph taken from a seventeenth century theological work in Latin by Thomas Burnet; and added fifty-eight explanatory and sometimes interpretative glosses in prose that were printed in the margins and sometimes beneath the verses in the first of his collections under his own name alone, Sybilline Leaves (1817).

The poem in its last revision is radically different from the earliest version. That first version is a relatively simple story of crime, punishment and partial redemption; the final version is a more elaborate multi-layered set of narratives, bringing out themes like the unity and sanctity of nature, original sin, social alienation, and the creative imagination, themes which were indeed present in the first version but often only implicitly so. Between these first and last versions are some sixteen other texts of the poem. Currently it is the last version, dating from 1834, when Coleridge was in his sixties, that is taken as the standard text for collections and anthologies, and is frequently though erroneously read as if it were the poem that Coleridge wrote in 1797-8 when he was in his middle twenties.

This website presents the poem in its first (1798) and final (1834) versions as reading texts. A pdf file is provided for download showing the differences between these two versions. Other pdf files show the major changes in between, which are those between 1798 and 1800, between 1800 and 1817, and between 1817 and 1834.

In the list that follows, versions 1, 4, 5 ,8, 16 and 18 are more important than the rest because they occur as printed texts in 1798, 1800, 1802, 1817, 1828 and 1834 respectively. The other versions were never printed but occur as manuscript variants, as detailed below.

Version 1 is the earliest printed text of the poem, in Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s jointly authored though anonymously published Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems in 1798. It was entitled “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, in Seven Parts” and appeared as the first poem in the volume, after a prefatory Advertisement (written by Wordsworth, but unsigned) which pointedly ascribed the work to a single Author. This version, which incorporates three items from the errata sheet of printer’s errors, can be read by clicking here.

Version 2 is Version 1 as altered by Coleridge’s annotations in a copy of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads held at Trinity College Cambridge. The changes are described in the notes here provided to the 1798 printed text.

Version 3 is constituted by an elaborate and extremely precise list of corrections to the 1798 text that Coleridge sent to the printers in July 1800, when they were preparing to reprint Lyrical Ballads in a second edition. The printers followed Coleridge’s instructions almost exactly.

Version 4 is the text to be found in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800). Here the poem is entitled “The Ancient Mariner, A Poet’s Reverie” and a new Argument emphasises some of the moral elements of the tale. Most of the new readings are modernisations of quaint archaisms of spelling and diction. though some entire stanzas are deleted. The poem itself has been moved from initial to penultimate position so that it appears just before the concluding piece, Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey. Wordsworth’s name alone appears on the title page, but he acknowledges only in a Preface that this poem is the work of “a Friend”. In a note at the end of the volume, Wordsworth apologises that “the Poem of my Friend has indeed great defects”. His full critique can be found by clicking here. A pdf file showing the changes between Version 1 and Version 4 can be found by clicking here (a big file, so right-click to download it).

Version 5 is the text in the third edition of Lyrical Ballads. It differs very little from the poem as printed (and positioned) in the edition of 1800. The main novelty is Coleridge’s removal of the entire prose Argument. The title has been shortened to “The Ancient Mariner” and the subtitle “A Poet’s Reverie” has been dropped (possibly by Wordsworth rather than Coleridge). Other changes are minor.

Version 6 is the text in the fourth edition of Lyrical Ballads, published in 1805. Again, there are only minor changes from Version 5. Coleridge was in Malta at the time this edition was prepared, so it is unlikely that he authorised the changes.

Version 7 is a notebook entry dating from 1806. There is only one change, but that is a redrafting of an entire stanza (some of these amendments were later dropped in print). The text that Coleridge was revising is the following (as Version 1 has it):

With never a whisper in the Sea
     Off darts the Spectre-ship;
While clombe above the Eastern bar
The horned Moon, with one bright Star
     Almost between the tips.

Coleridge’s new version in the notebook is as follows:

And We look’d round & we look’d up
And Fear at our hearts as at a Cup
     The Life-blood seem’d to sip
The Sky was dull & dark the Night,
The Helmsman’s Face by his lamp gleam’d bright,
     From the Sails the Dews did drip
Till rose clomb above the Eastern Bar
The horned moon, with one bright Star
     Within its nether Tip.

Compare this with the final version of the text.

Version 8 is the text printed in the first (1817) edition of Sybilline Leaves, which was Coleridge’s first major collection of his poems. (He had previously published under his own name only two slim volumes each continuing only a few of his poems.) This is the fifth published version of the poem but the first in which Coleridge is identified as the author. The text is radically different from those which preceded it; novelties include the Latin epigraph and all but one of the marginal glosses that are now part of the standard text, a couple of footnotes, and substantive revisions, additions and corrections in some forty passages. For a pdf file showing the changes since Version 4 (1800), click here (a big file, so right-click to download it).

Version 9 is constituted by Version 8 amended by three items in the errata list. This includes the deletion of an entire stanza (see the note on the gloss to line 200 in the 1834 reasing text) and two minor changes in wording.

Versions 10 through 15 are constituted by six annotated copies of 1817 Sybilline Leaves with six variant versions of the gloss to line 200. These are given in the note on the gloss to line 200 in the 1834 reading text.

Version 16 is the text printed in the 1828 (first) edition of his Poetical Works, a complete collection of his poems. It contains the first and final printed version of the gloss to line 200 (“No twilight in the courts of the sun”) and a handful of minor changes from 1817 Sybilline Leaves.

Version 17 is the text printed in the 1829 (second) edition of Poetical Works. It is practically the same as Version 16.

Version 18 is the text printed in the 1834 (third) edition of Poetical Works. It differs from version 17 in a handful of places, all of them minor. This is the text usually presented nowadays, and can be found by clicking here. It is the last version published in Coleridge’s lifetime. A pdf file of the changes since 1817 (version 8) can be found by clicking here (a big file, so right-click to download it).