Based on the famous 1798 poem (originally entitled The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere and re-written in 1817 mainly in order to "modernise" the archaic spelling) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (17721834), this is Maiden's greatest epic ballad. With a length of over 13 and a half minutes, it is also their longest song.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge had met William Wordsworth in 1795 in Bristol and their subsequent literary association was one of the most fruitful, albeit sometimes stormy, in all of British literature. Attaining its peak with the publication of the Lyrical Ballads in 1798, this team work led to the writing of a few great poems, one of them being the famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Like many other authors including Poe, for instance Coleridge has the reputation of being a poet who used drugs all along his literary career. His whole life was made of patches of debilitating addiction and painful withdrawal. Today's readers, used the the 20th Century's tales of recreational drugs and lethal overdoses cutting creative lives short, should keep in mind that Coleridge was not doing anything illegal at the time (the opiates he used were readily available, even if they were not always socially acceptable), and his drug-addiction did not result from opium use for recreational purposes: it was a pharmaceutical habit and he was convinced that narcotics played an essential role in his creative processes. However, it has been argued that the weirdest of Coleridge's images derive not from any chemical inducement but from his copious readings in not only literature, but also in philosophy, theology and all the sciences.
Although the song's lyrics are an excellent summary of the story, they cannot do complete justice to this brilliant epic poem, and I highly recommend reading the original. Nevertheless, it is among the very best of Maiden's material, and a testament to Steve Harris's brilliant song-writing.