Samuel Taylor Coleridge must have found the inspiration for "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in Hakluyt's 1600 edition of the real-life sea narrative, The Southern Voyage of John Davis. Although Coleridge did not mention the 200-year-old work in his notes, both "Mariner" and Southern Voyage prominently feature a tale of misfortune resulting from the killing of a bird. They also both feature a rotting ship drifting out of control in the tropics, and a scene of a dying man cursing his fate. Furthermore, William Wordsworth, Coleridge's good friend and occasional collaborator, had an interest in books about actual historical sea voyages, and may have owned a copy of Davis' story.
The author of the passage makes his point primarily by
A. drawing an analogy between literature and seafaring.
(A) is incorrect because the author draws no such analogy. Although both works of literature he cites involve seafaring to some extent, the author is comparing the two works to each other, in order to suggest that the later work was influenced by the earlier work.
B. reinterpreting a classic literary work.
(B) is incorrect because the author makes no attempt to reinterpret either of the literary works mentioned. In other words, he does not challenge the conventional interpretation of either work, nor any particular scholar's interpretation of either work. He is merely claiming that one must be based on the other, a claim which does not require any reinterpretation.
C. paralleling an author's work with the events of the author's life.
(C) is incorrect because the author draws no such parallel; nothing about Coleridge's life is mentioned in the stimulus. The only "parallel" being drawn is between some elements of Coleridge's story and the Southern Voyage story that appear to be similar.
D. supporting a claim with circumstantial evidence.
(D) is correct. The author claims that Coleridge's poem must be based on the Southern Voyage story published in 1600, and bases that claim on two things: (1) a few broad similarities between the two stories, and (2) the possibility that one of Coleridge's contemporaries possessed a copy of the text in question. None of the facts cited by the author can definitively prove that Coleridge based "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" on The Southern Voyage of John Davis; in fact they might just be mere coincidences. They do tend to support the author's conclusion, but they require additional, more direct facts in order to constitute actual proof. Therefore they qualify as circumstantial evidence, as opposed to direct evidence.
E. disputing a controversial claim of literary influence.
(E) is incorrect because the author is not "disputing" anything, and no "controversial claim" is presented in the stimulus. If anything, the author's own claim might be controversial, but that depends on the scholarly consensus which is outside the scope of the argument.