Saturday, 7 January 2012

Mallet's ancient mariner?

David Mallet’s The Excursion (1728) was one of those early 18th-century epic poems, enormously popular in its day, entirely unknown now. Its first half ranges around terrestrial locations; but in the second Mallet leaps into space as his ‘excursive traveller’ moves from planets to stars. The verse is mostly humdrum, although sometimes it lifts itself. And, in particular, I found myself wondering about this description of the polar ice-cap:
Now beneath the North,
Alone with Winter in his Frost-bound Realm!
Where, a white Waste of Ice, the Polar Sea
Casts cold a cheerless Light: where Hills of Snow,
Pil’d up from eldest Ages, Hill on Hill,
In blue, bleak Precipices rise to Heaven.
Yet here, even here in this unjoyous World,
Adventrous Mortals, urg’d by Thirst of Gain,
Thro’ floating Isles of Ice and fighting Storms,
Roam the wild Waves, in Search of doubtful Shores,
By West or East, a Path yet unexplor’d. [28]
Could Coleridge have read this, rather vivid polar poetry, and (consciously or subconsciously) have transferred the north to south, the blue ice to green, and given the Adventrous Mortal the identity of his Ancient Mariner? Hard to prove. Suggestive, though.

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