Alan Farrant Illustrated Mariner - Review

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Illustrated by Alan Andrew Farrant,

The Stukeley Press (1994).


Ltd edn of 30 signed, dated, and numbered aquatints. Nos 1-39 in tied linen-covered Solander box (468 x 330 x 55m), title in black on cover and on spine. Nos 40-50 book bound. The boxed issue is in 13 gatherings of 2 sheets folded to 4 leaves (457 x 320m), with interspersed sheets (455 x 315m) of plates (211 x 152m) and guard sheets (365 x 246m). Type filmset in Caxton Book. Text printed at Senefelder Press on Velin Arch Blanc 200gms. Aquatints made in the workshop of Hugh Stonemen and printed on Velin Arch Blanc 270gms.


Reviewed by Walter Crawford


(The Coleridge Bulletin New Series No 11, Spring 1998, pp 72-76)



Prints the 1834 text without the gloss [which contains images and motifs not entirely compatible with the artist's].

Each aquatint is individually captioned by hand with the line or lines to which it refers: 1, 11, 21, 41-2, 59-60, 73-4, 81-2, 105-6, 117-18,. 141-2, 175-6, 197-8, 222-3, 252, 283-4, 290-1, 295-6, 322-3, 350-1, 375-6, 392, 408-9, 430, 466-7, 490-1, 503-4, 514, 554-5, 574, 624. The aquatints are distinguished by excellent spatial design, occasionally tending to the abstract (sometimes the Mariner is merely a nude figure), and often to the symbolic: for example, plate 7 for lines 81-2. Many also make imaginative use of perspective. Unusual, but not a fault: the ship is represented as a small three-masted sailboat (perhaps 30 feet long), or a still smaller single-masted boat, in plate 20 the Mariner lying asleep in a boat not much bigger than a casket. And the Albatross is hung around the Mariner's neck by a chain rather than a rope.

The aquatints were exhibited in February 1997 in the Brewhouse Gallery at Eton, where Farrant, “an old Etonian,” also met with




students to discuss his works and Coleridge's poem (source: cutting of a report of the exhibition and talk, periodical unidentified, but p 4).



The artist's prospectus (a sheet of Velin Arch Blanc folded to 210 x 147mm, 4 pp, available from Bertram Rota Ltd, 31 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9LT) includes “About the Artist” (with his portrait) (p [2]) and “The Making of the Mariner,” describing the three-phase development of each of the aquatints, which took ten years to complete (p [3]). Pages [1] and [4] include the title and specifications of the work and reproductions (102 x 72mm) of plates 10 (for lines 141-2) and 30 (for line 624).



The artist also prepared a “Script Treatment for a Programme Presenting the AF Edition of Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” subtitled “The re-examination of a great poem; a new interpretation and a justification of this vision,” and dated October 1996 (26 pp). The programme was for a BBC 2 Schools broadcast and for a CD-ROM.



In no one place does the artist offer a complete, coherent written explanation of his visual interpretation of the poem. Those sometimes different explanations, from brief to extensive, are found in the artist's Prospectus [AP], the published Preface [Pr] and “Legend,” a list of 22 images in the aquatints, with brief indications of their significance [Le[, and his “Script,” which includes extensive interpretive passages and brief but detailed explanations of his visual translations in each aquatint of many individual images and motifs in the poem, which, taken together, constitute something of an explication of the poem as




the artist “illuminates” it visually [Sc]. In the following paragraphs I have assembled the principal explanations into as brief a coherent account as I could manage.

Farrant wishes his 30 aquatints to “illuminate” (rather than “merely illustrate”) the poem “as a cautionary tale to all who are blessed at birth with the poet's or artist's gift of perception,” which is “the very essence of the soul” and opens the soul to the inspiration of the Muse, “But the soul is a delicate flower; easily crushed and corrupted by the delights of worldly pursuits” [Pr]. The Mariner is “the Artist in a state of remorse,” the Wedding Guest “the Artist in a state of innocence” [Le]. In the poem, the Mariner's killing of the Albatross is a metaphor for self-destruction of the soul. In the poem the symbolic instrument of destruction is the crossbow, “the poison of self-deluding appetite” ]Lei; in the art the instrument is the hypodermic syringe [Pr], symbolizing drug abuse, which itself “is a metaphor for the many other worldly appetites which, if over indulged, so easily destroy the creative spirit” [AP].

Farrant reads the central figure of the Night-mare Life-in-Death as “the unforgiving mistress of the mind who can be muse or, just as easily, the destroyer of the soul.” She is the White Goddess who, as “the young and innocent Virgin,” appears as the Bride in the poem; and who, as “the wicked, all-destroying Witch,” is the Night-mare Life-in-Death. The White Goddess is also the Moon Goddess. The Mariner “is punished with the most dreadful retribution by the same Mistress that was his Inspiration and his Muse—the Moon Goddess herself' [Sc].

Reading the poem in this light as reflecting the experience of Coleridge before 1797, says Farrant, “you have the story of a young




poet who sets out on life's adventure, full of confidence in his own genius.” He is inspired and “begins to give expression to his talent. He gets so excited with his own brilliance that he goes on a high—a drug-induced binge,” which is a metaphor for his slipping into forms of debauchery. “In so doing he effectively destroys himself. All his special gifts are taken away from him: as Poet, as Artist, and as Priest of the real secrets of the world, which is what the Poet really is.” (“We were the first that ever burst / Into that silent sea” [lines 105-6] Farrant glosses as “The Poet thinks he has discovered all the secrets.”) “He suffers pain and degradation, and becomes remorseful.” After this early “Experience marinates in the Subconscious” of Coleridge, he produces the poem, conveying the Ancient Mariner's warning [Sc]. The penalty “should be death; but death is too easy an escape to ever satisfy the jealousy of the muse; the source of all inspiration. The muse therefore prepares a living hell from which the Mariner can never recover. All he can do is wander the earth warning others of the penalty and pain that may be in store if they too succumb to worldly temptation” [AP].

Farrant's brief detailed glosses are too many for them all to be presented here, but the glosses on the most notable images not drawn from the poem supplement the overall interpretation presented above.

Plates 15 (for lines 283-4) and 17 (for 295-6) show a swaddled, thumb-sucking infant in center of huge floating multi-petaled flower like a lotus, representing “the return of innocence” in sleep [Le]. The infant also appears in The Mabinogion story about the White Goddess, known in Celtic mythology as Arianrod or Ceridwen: she bears a beautiful baby boy whom she wraps up, places in a coracle, and sets afloat on the lake of Teggid—the boy who became Taliesin, the most famous Celtic poet [Sc].

Plate 22 (for 408-9) “illuminates” the Two Voices as “Conscience




and Hope, like a pair of psychiatrists” [unseen; Sc] attending the Ancient Mariner seen hooked up to an intravenous apparatus, in a hospital bed, as suffering from a drug overdose, with hypodermic syringe at his side.

In Plate 26 (for 503-4) the Mariner kneels in self-flagellant remorse, his back marked by application of the six-strand whip lying on deck.

In Plate 27 (for 514), standing beside the Hermit, “the earth's guardian” [Le], is his Goat, “the Bearer of Sins as taken from Leviticus 16:10-22” [Se].

In Plate 29 (for 574), her back to the Mariner, a nude female figure stands on a half seashell floating on the sea - the White Goddess as “the young and innocent Virgin” [Sc], “The Young Girl” who is “the muse who turns away for good” [Le]. (This is also a visual allusion to Botticelli's Birth of Venus—colloquially, “Venus on a Half-shell.”)