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Here is a quote from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

And I had done a hellish thing,
And it would work 'em woe:
For all averred, I had killed the bird
That made the breeze to blow.
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,
That made the breeze to blow!

As far as I understand, the bird to slay means an act of slaying the bird, am I correct?

Are Noun + Infinitive and Gerund + Noun constructions interchangeable and if yes, then how do they stylistically differ?
Does the wording from the verse sound archaic and poetic and should it be avoided in everyday's speech?

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  • This is simply a case of inverted word order. The normal word order would be to slay the bird. But that doesn't rhyme. Apr 12, 2017 at 11:48

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As @Peter Shor commented, The bird to slay seems to be a case of inverted word order in order to rhyme.

I am not exactly sure what you are asking concerned whether Noun + Infinitive and Gerund + Noun constructions can be interchangeable. However, grammatically they can be used interchangeably in only some instances. Both gerunds and infinitives can be subjects in sentences, and both gerunds and infinitives can serve as the object of a verb. A gerund, however, can be the object of a preposition; an infinitive cannot. Stylistically, Gerunds are best for use in sentences about actions that are real or complete, or that have been completed. Infinitives are best for use in sentences about actions that are unreal or abstract, or that will occur in the future.

Avoidance of such a phrase is subjective, although I think you would be suited best avoiding it for the sake of simplicity and clarity in every-day speech.

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