In the late 1790s Wordsworth and Coleridge conduct a common storytelling experiment: to see if stories can tell their own meaning, without explanations or morals attached. The resulting stories are, fundamentally, rewrites of the stories of sentimental encounter so common in the previous generation. Their two most ambitious experiments of this type are The Ruined Cottage and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written at the same time while the poets were in constant conversation. These poems have different fates: Wordsworth worries ever after about the abruptness of the original poem and eventually adds explanations of various types. Coleridge’s gloss to The Rime looks like the result of the same kind of process but, fundamentally, is its opposite: the gloss is a dramatization of the craving for explanation stories generate instead of the explanation itself. In this way Coleridge’s revisions protect rather than undermine the original interest in unexplained storytelling.

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