The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner book cover
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Why is the word "rime" used in the title of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Is it just a variant spelling of "rhyme"? Or does it also have something to do with "frost"?

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The title of Coleridge's poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, could have two meanings, based on the various definitions of the word "rime."

Merriam-Webster gives one definition of rime as:

an accumulation of granular ice tufts on the windward sides of exposed objects that is formed from supercooled fog or cloud and built out directly against the wind.
In the poem's first stanza we see the Mariner's ship blown off course, southward to the Antarctic region:
And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.
We can imagine the ship itself covered in this ice, or rime, as it lies stuck in the ice floes near the south pole. Coleridge describes the place as filled with ice: 
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around
Near the end of the this stanza, just after the ship has escaped the ice, the Mariner unaccountably shoots the albatross that many of the sailors credited as bringing the good fortune that broke them out. This sets into motion a series of misfortunes that bring the Mariner to a low, desperate, point. In a metaphorical sense, the Mariner is now covered in a symbolic rime, caused by his violent and unnecessary act. 

When the Mariner finally makes it home, through no skill of own, he is compelled by an unseen force to wander the land and tell his story over and over again, including the following moral, which appears in the third to last stanza:
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Things get a little complicated here. Keep in mind the "rime" is an earlier spelling of the more familiar "rhyme." Rhyme can also be used as a verb, meaning "to bring into harmony." The Mariner, after all of his tribulations on the sea and the weight of his guilt over killing the albatross and indirectly causing the deaths of his fellow shipmates, has been brought into harmony with God through prayer and love.  

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The spelling of "rime" used in the title of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is an archaic one, that was obsolete at the time the poem was written. In this work, as in many of the other poems Coleridge contributed to Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge frequently uses archaic words and spellings.

The very title of the book suggests that Coleridge and Wordsworth were returning to traditional ballads and the simple language of peasants as an alternative to what they saw as the ornate and cliched diction of the Augustans and the bombast of the Germans. This particular poem uses many of the generic conventions of the traditional ballad, including common or ballad meter, as well as many archaic word forms, to locate itself within a folkloric English tradition. The use of the archaic form "rime" in the title gives the reader an immediate clue to the generic intentions of the poem, as recalling an older style of poetry. 

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