like the Ancient Mariner

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Senior Member
This is an extract from Wedding Season by Katie Fforde.

Then, somehow, before she knew how it had happened, she found herself outside the salon, staring in the window.She was trying to look through the window without being seen when one of her clients spotted her and waved. Before Bron could indicate that she didn't want to be seen, Sasha, obviously more on the ball than she was, spotted her, and shot out of the door, grasping her wrist like the Ancient Mariner, only in fishnet tights.

Would you like to explain the meaning of "like the Ancient Mariner" to me? Thanks.
  • Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    It refers to "The Rime [Rhyme] of the Ancient Mariner," a 1798 poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This poem is well known to everyone who studied English literature in secondary school. In it, the title character grasps the arm of every third person who passes him and will not let that person go until he has finished telling him or her his (long) story. The third verse of the poem reads:

    He holds him with his skinny hand,
    "There was a ship," quoth he.
    `Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!'
    Eftsoons his hand dropped he.

    (While the mariner dropped his hand, he continued to hold the wedding guest with his eye until the end of his story.)

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The poem starts

    It is an ancient Mariner,
    And he stoppeth one of three.
    'By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
    Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

    It's so well known that we used to refer to the goalkeeper of one particular football team as the Ancient Mariner.
    It should be noted that the Ancient Mariner does not grab "every third person" who passes him. The wedding guest to whom the tale is told happened to have two companions (which made him "one of three"), but that is not why he was stopped. At the end of the poem the Mariner explains that from time to time he feels the urge to tell the story, and recognizes on sight the person to whom it should be told:
    I pass, like night, from land to land;
    I have strange power of speech;
    That moment that his face I see,
    I know the man that must hear me:
    To him my tale I teach

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Thank you, GWB.

    It's a good point and easy to misunderstand, because the sentence, he stoppeth one of three, comes at the very beginning, and is potentially ambiguous: it could sound like a habit of the old man, until one settles into a realisation that the story is being told in the historic present, so that he stoppeth means he did on that occasion stop one of three men.
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