The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Please Explain these lines from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": He holds him with his skinny hand,'There was a ship,' quoth he.'Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!'Eftsoons his hand dropt he. He holds him with his glittering eye—The Wedding-Guest stood still,And listens like a three years' child:The Mariner hath his will.  

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A young man who is undoubtedly well-dressed and in a hurry to get to a wedding is stopped by a seedy-looking old sailor who wants to tell him a story. The sailor grabs hold of the wedding guest's garment, probably his coat, in order to detain him. This introduction adds the element of drama to Coleridges's poem and also provides a "ticking clock," because the young man is already late and may have an important part to play in the wedding. He may be an usher or even the best man.

The ancient mariner starts to tell his story.

"There was a ship," quoth he.

But the young man doesn't want to talk to this crazy-looking old character who is probably dressed in rags, and he suspects that the mariner only wants money. He says:

"Hold off! Unhand me, grey-beard loon!"

And the impatient young man probably uses his own hand to try to release himself. But there is something hypnotic about the ancient mariner's eyes. The line, "Eftsoons his hand dropped he" seems ambiguous, but it probably refers to the ancient mariner himself. He drops his hand because he has captured the wedding guest's attention and can detain him with his "glittering eye."

The wedding guest is stopped in his tracks. He listens with that wide-eyed fascination which we see in little children when they are being told a story or are watching something spellbinding on television. The old sailor has had plenty of experience in telling his story, and he knows, as he says later in the poem, how to pick the right person to tell it to and how to capture his attention.

Throughout the poem there will be references to the wedding guest's concern about missing the wedding. This provides an added element of drama and that "ticking clock" which is always helpful in creating dramatic interest. The wedding guest is already late. Then he is aware that the wedding has started, but he can't break the spell that the mariner is creating with his bizarre story. Finally the young man completely misses the wedding, and will have some explaining to do to the groom and others, but he becomes a "sadder and wiser" man as a result of hearing that tale.

The only line that seems a bit puzzling is:

Eftsoons his hand dropped he.

Most likely it is the ancient mariner who removes the hand with which he originally detained the impatient and unwilling listener, since he can hold him with his hypnotic eyes. The other interpretation would be that the wedding guest tries to free himself from the mariner's grip but then gives up the struggle and drops his hand.

Coleridge must have decided to begin his poem with a conflict between the ancient mariner and the wedding guest in order to create dramatic interest. The poet chose two very different types of men for contrast. One is old and ragged, the other young and dressed in his finest attire.

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