The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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What meaning does the title have, and why did the author use that particular spelling of "rime"?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The Ancient Mariner is an allegorical figure: someone who represents humankind's innate sinfulness. He is ancient, not merely in the sense of being very old, but in the sense of going back to the very dawn of humankind. Thanks to Adam and Eve's original act of disobedience, man has been steeped in sin. That being the case, Coleridge feels it appropriate to use an archaic spelling for the word "rhyme." In doing so, he's drawing the reader's attention to the universality of his theme.

"Rime" has a further meaning in that it refers to the kind of frost that often forms on ships when it gets foggy or windy. Virtually the whole of the poem takes place on board a ship—much of it during a voyage to the Antarctic, where of course we'd expect to see quite a lot of frost. On a metaphorical level, one could also say that the mariner's soul is covered with thick layers of "rime" that need to melt if he's to develop empathy for his fellow creatures.

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amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Coleridge uses these archaic spellings in order to give the poem a more ancient feel.  The mariner is supposed to live forever and every now and then detain someone whom he feels will benefit from his tale, like the wedding guest.  Making the poem seem older than it is by using these archaic spellings helps to give credence to the mariner's story.  The title is basically telling us the Ancient mariner has a story to tell and this is it.  The Rime (or story/poem/song) of the Ancient Mariner is as follows, as the wedding guest perhaps retold it.

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urthona eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Rime is an archaic (old, outdated) spelling of rhyme (“poem”). When first published in Lyrical Ballads in 1798, the poem’s original title was Rime of the Ancyent Marinere. Coleridge used many archaic words and spellings throughout the poem, including rime. In later versions of Lyrical Ballads, many of these archaic words in Rime of the Ancient Mariner were edited out, and the marginal glosses (brief explanations) were added.

Some Coleridge scholars believe that rime is also a play on the word’s other meaning: “frost.” They believe that the poem is based, in part, on the second voyage of British explorer James Cook, who ventured into the Arctic Circle in the 1770s.

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