Wednesday, 3 June 2009


I've never liked rhyming. don't ask me why, maybe it was something to do with my poetic education, but those clunky end rhymes all too often sound to me like a door shutting.

each to their own and if that's the sort of thing you like then all fair and good. but, thanks to armando ianucci's recent bbc effort on milton, i was reminded that this dislike of an 'invention of a barbarous age' was nothing new.

The measure is English heroic verse without rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and of Virgil in Latin—rime being no necessary adjunct or true ornament of poem or good verse, in longer works especially, but the invention of a barbarous age, to set off wretched matter and lame metre; graced indeed since by the use of some famous modern poets, carried away by custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse, than else they would have expressed them. Not without cause therefore some both Italian and Spanish poets of prime note have rejected rime both in longer and shorter works, as have also long since our best English tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, trivial and of no true musical delight; which consists only in apt numbers, fit quantity of syllables, and the sense variously drawn out from one verse into another, not in the jingling sound of like endings—a fault avoided by the learned ancients both in poetry and all good oratory. This neglect then of rime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar readers, that it rather is to be esteemed an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recovered to heroic poem from the troublesome and modern bondage of riming.


Sorlil said...

I love rhyme, not particularly the ababcc sort but interal rhymes, slant rhymes and half-rhymes have, for me, a magical affect on a poem.

swiss said...

like i say each to their own. for me i'm always drawn to alliteration, the clustering of consonants (sic!), the smooth shapes of assonance.

i'm slightly more forgiving of half rhymes, i guess because they're less avoidable but i'm still conscious of a didactic (to me) element that seems to be forcing me to speak the poem in a certain way. i suppose the same could be said about first consonant alliteration but it seems, again to me, that such an alliteration allows the words to form from it rather than dictating how they should end.

but as i say, that's just me. i'm not saying we shouldn't use rhyme, or even that i don't read poems that use rhyme, just that i'm not a fan...

Rachel Fox said...

'Each to their own' - that's exactly how it should be so thank-you, thank-you and a hundred times thank-you for that distinction.

I like poems with heaps of rhymes (half or whole...all varieties) and I like poems with none but what really matters is that a person shouldn't be made to feel like a twat for taste that goes in a particular direction. It's art - it bends, it moves, it's flexible.

And once again. I thank you.


swiss said...

and thank you!

back in the day i really couldn't get into representational art. didn't like it, couldn't be bothered with it and my preferences today still lie in that area. but, once upon a time i went out with a girl who was the opposite. so, tell me what you see, i asked and she did. so effectively that not only are pictures with things in them more appealing but, finally i got into medieval art and spent a jolly holiday in belgium and holland as a result.

true the rest of it was an emotional void into which i willingly threw myself but i'll always be grateful to her for that.

i have no problems with people not liking things, only when they can't explain why - my daughter learned very early on that 'just because' was never, ever going to be a suitable reply. and the scottish/british 'it's shit' is just plain embarassing.

but what a better conversation to have than to be be able to explore why you agree to disagree. i find it very freeing, esp when it comes to my own work. obviously i'm baffled when people don't like my poetry, incredulous they don't like my fiction but it's great when they're able to articulate it, not least because they feel comfortable and able to do so.

i was immensely pleased the other week when i had some workies round the house and they asked who'd painted all the pictures. not that they liked them but they did like the idea that someone might choose to have their home occupied throughout by things they'd made themselves. brilliant.

Colin Will said...

Most of the poems I enjoy reading don't have end rhymes, but I like the sneaky ones that rhyme without me noticing it. Unsubtle end rhymes lead to the adoption of the 'poetry reading voice', a sort of sing-song artificial form of speech that I find really irritating. But some audiences like it... It's as Rachel says.

sarah said...

I'm with you. Rhymes seem so fake, they make me stop contemplating the poem to wonder instead about the process the poet went through to contrive their rhymes, and what words they might have used instead.

Having said that, I do love rhythm. And for me, when following the natural rhythm of a poem, that will sometimes bring along its own rhymes, or half-rhymes (especially similar vowel sounds). But the times I've sat down to deliberately write a rhyming poem, they inevitably fail.

Andrew Shields said...

Just curious, Swiss: what about rhyme in songs?

Rachel Fox said...

I have read people complaining about all poets tending to sound very samey when they read aloud (not just rhyming ones). There was a post at Jane Holland's blog not long back (and I kind of know what she means...a bit). Radio DJs can be accused of it too...humans just have strong sheep tendencies perhaps.

swiss said...

andrew, i was hoping for a enthusiastic championing of rhyme in poetry!

when it comes to music i have to admit i don't know the lyrics to a single song. i never listen to the words just the sound the voice makes. i guess that's why it was so easy to make the transition to elctronic/instrumental music.

even when i was, briefly, singing i had to focus on the sound rather than what was being said because the lyrics often just annoyed me! shameful but true!

swiss said...

rachel. i agree about the reading voice tho with ref to your memory post i think this'd be improved in more people (including me) memorised poems rahter than just read them off the page. and i agree there's certain styles of poetic delivery some of which are just unpleasant!

i have to almost contradict myself now because i think about reading out loud like playing music. because i learned to play music by reading music and was reasonably good at sight reading i approach reading out loud the same way. however rather than end rhymes i'm looking at alliteration, punctuation, the manner of run-on etc in order to faciltate my delivery and, as with music, read a couple of lines ahead. and if there are end rhymes i'm looking at ways that i can use them rather than just deliver them to make the pome sing (sic!)

Andrew Shields said...

First, the take on rhyme that says rhyme is best when it is only noticed after the fact: I understand this perspective, because it is a great pleasure to notice rhymes after the fact.

Secondly, though, I also like rhyme that makes its presence felt more strongly; it, too, can be a great source of pleasure. (A. E. Stallings has been very articulate about how rhyme is supposed to lead you to put words there that you would not have put there otherwise!)

Thirdly, the fact that most of my poems in the last few years have been rhymed does not mean I only write in rhyme.

Fourthly, though, I do notice many non-metrical, unrhymed poems that have no particular music to them at all. No assonance, no alliteration, no word play. And in those cases, I often feel that rhyme and meter might have given the poet the shape to push the material further and fill it up with a few more surprises.

(Satisfied, Swiss?)

swiss said...

yes, that'll do. tho i was half hoping for a mention of the heroic couplet!

i hadn't considered your second point from the stallings perspective and i strongly agree with your fourth. rhyming or not i like to think some element of effort, or at least choice, has gone into the arrangement of a poem and, as you point out, all too often it seems that that's not the case

and like yourself just because i don't (end) rhyme it doesn't meant i can't and that i don't, occasionally, catch myself doing so