New poets or those poets who wish to write in traditional forms will start by considering rhyme; i am sure, even if they decide not to use it, poetry suggests rhyme to the uninitiated & a poet will probably make a decision not to use it: perhaps it feels remote, difficult, constricting, unnecessary, not what they have in mind; — whatever the reason, there is inevitably consideration.
The allure of rhyme is obvious, to use rhythm in conveying a meaning seems to imply craft; in addition it is instantly gratifying to use rhythm people can hear, it prettifies the function of a poem, makes it pleasant. i however would argue that following these guidelines, which seem to be pre-conceived, an in built reaction to the task of poeticizing an idea, tempt us into writing what we think is a poem, rather than a poem itself.
What does this mean? It means that parodying a poem with traditional methods, because it has end rhymes, we think poet’s use (& did & sometimes still do) is not beneficial to the futurity of poetry & it is not beneficial to us when learning to write, because we have stuffed ourselves into a box, we have closed ourselves off from influences that could improve us. Poetry no longer need be about tried & tested methods, like gardening tools, triumphing over the aberrant loon who broke with tradition.
Learn the old methods— in a notebook imitate them, but realize it is practice for understanding & try to look for exits out of what you are learning; perhaps this way you may discover the song of yourself, your own register. So i am not saying ignore tradition, far from it, we just shouldn’t make it our aim to mimic it.
Our college lecturers spent & spend years teaching & studying the classics from the various masters & we tend to get drawn into the importance on these poets in the canon of university courses. i know i did. It is natural to increase the perceived importance of something you work so long on & quite right the masters have value & importance, but i may get a lot of flak for this, but i would say their influence on this has enormous limitations:
Each generation should write in the context of its own generation’s problems & style. Previous generations may have had something similar, but it isn’t the same. A tradition arose in the context of a history-in-the-making, which it is only semi-aware of & not until hindsight is the fashion / style seen as having moved in tandem with what was going on in the foreground of its development. So to think that we should write in a tradition of what we consider a golden period to reinstate that golden period into the current societal & cultural consciousness, is absurd— we must be moving forward, as aware, of what we have to process, what we have to change & communicate, as possible.
This may seem to have veered from the topic of rhyme in poetry, but you will see shortly (i hope) how my opinion rhyme can, if applied with craft & thought, enhance or even intensify meaning.
Rhythm is of course sound. Some sounds are immediately recognizable, an alarm, the meow of a cat— they resemble immediately what they are, unless the sound is unique enough to be contorted, which then makes us either become dumbstruck with disbelieve, imaginative or to appreciate the complexity of the thing for going beyond itself against our expectation.
A word signifies something, because we give the word that power, the word wind, does not describe the motion, complexity or variety of wind, but we fill in the gaps as we wish, because it signifies something we know & can then expand our understanding or emotion toward it.
In poetry a word becomes so much more, at least it can if the poet wishes, it can become loaded with meaning, complex in its dimension; this becomes even more possible when we couple words in rhyme— the words can simply rhyme, but if the opportunity arises to rhyme & extend or bolster the function, the poet should be aware & prepared to implement this.
The musician is aware of this, Shostakovich uses sound to develop meaning in his 7th Symphony, where the energy of the drums is the sound of Nazi artillery thudding on the walls of Leningrad; Shostakovich was inside the city & composed the symphony under siege & we can hear this clearly. Eric Dolphy used laughter, mimicking it to great effect on his saxophone & also bird song with a flute, to attempt to extend the register of meaning in jazz, to show awareness of nature & the behavior of people, to even be dramatic.
Music, i will happily acquiesce, has the immediacy of sound, which i think registers with people more effectively & it can be much less subtle than words, but that doesn’t suggest to me we should ignore using rhyme to better advantage our meaning.
As i mentioned in my previous post, i do not like the poem i am using as an example Vino in Veritas, which you can read at the bottom. But as i said, it is technically sound & i can illustrate certain functions of poetry with it, rhyme is no exception; let me go over a few examples.
The first stanza rhymes veritas & mass. If your Latin is rusty, veritas is where we get the word verity, which is another word for truth. Now you may believe Mass to be the transubstantiation of Christ’s body, the wine his blood the bread his body; you may believe the priest’s spell cleanses you; you may believe in its symbolism; you may think it is guff— rhyming veritas/mass raises all of these positions.
It raises irony too, which is what i intended, as the Mass is nonsense to the protagonist, for verity comes from something used in the mass, the wine, but for quite a blasphemous purpose. Everything is turned on its head, & yet it also appears on the surface to reflect how Mass is perceived by millions of believers.
In addition the rhyme is completely unexpected. As you finish reading veritas even if you know the poem is terza rima you are not muttering to yourself I bet he’s gonna rhyme veritas with mass in the third line?
In the 3rd & 4th stanza there is the rhyme scheme oaks/crook/amok this is the sin committed by the lumber jacks in miniature, if i gave you these three words & asked to write a story with these words you could write something like a “gang of crooks ran amok stealing the king’s oaks.” or something along these lines, which would be pretty much the same story as the poem. This idea sort of comes from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s idea that it should be possible to read a poem, even if you remove all the vowels. This may seem completely unrelated to you, but the way my mind works, it makes perfect sense: it isn’t essential to a poem, but nevertheless a possibility to miniaturize the plot with key rhyme words, as these words do; as a proverb may act as a sound bite for the premise of a novel. So as with the minimum of letters you should be able to read the poem, the plot can be located in a locality of the poem, like a fractal.
In stanzas 5 & 6 there is hurt/dart/heart this works on multiple levels: Bacchus’s heart is pierced with pain after they cut down the living trees belonging to his father; the protagonist’s guilty heart pierced by Bacchus’s mercy & power; the description of Bacchus as an enameled dart, swift & elegant yet powerful & finally the fatal attack that stops the hearts of the men from beating. You can essentially use these 3 words to articulate the above in some shape or form.
i could comb through every stanza, but that would be tedious, so if anyone spots any of these i think it would be more interesting if in the comments section if anyone is so inclined they can pick some out with their personal theories.
In conclusion i hope i have gone some way to illustrating that rhyme doesn’t have to work as a one dimensional entity: to simply beautify, but can make a poem dense with the expansion of meaning, the enhancement of function with melody. This isn’t always easy, in fact it is restrictive in some respects & takes a great deal of concentration & dictionary perusal. However, this is what traditional poetry means, this is what the custodians of our long traditions trained themselves to do; once trained they could do it with much greater ingenuity. There are some brilliant lyrical poets around today, Simon Armitage is one, his ingenuity seems limitless, he sees rhythm in the most peculiar ways & places; a true pioneer.
Let’s read his work & other’s like him, learning from them & all the while with a nifty eye looking for ways to expand, in the same way we read the classics we cherish.
In the next essay i will re-write the poem how i would write it now, illustrating how traditional methods seep into the modernized, free form, but how the freedom of our age allows for numerous perspectives a more classical mode seems to omit.
(the photograph above shows one of my poems in draft process— i make a mess before i make anything tidy)
Vino in Veritas! Vino in Veritas!
Vino in veritas! Vino in veritas!
The grapes of truth have launched me to this lonely age,
i’ve witnessed Bacchus’s blood blasphemed at Catholic mass.
Refuse I, lying horizontal in my cage,
to repent my servitude to him who held no sword
aloft to glean men’s praise, nor humoured himself doge.
As a young man, my chest plumed broad, I met with side
of swollen axe, the lofty hinds of ancient oaks;
brought them bashing down to ground with sole whimpered chord.
Inclemency he firmly kempt for those who crook
his Cithaeron of its bark treasure to smother kings,
with tailored furniture and libraries amok.
His revellers branching among us trumpeting with clang
of tambourines, bone-horns; drunken with a wide hurt
our hacking axes filled with birth; I began to beg
when I beheld his pulchritude: enamelled dart
distracted by his natural thoughts, swaddled in grapes
of life, love, music; unalloyed in his apt heart.
I warned we lumber plunderers: beyond those lips
a god’s blood glides, it would be sensible to pray
forgiveness for our ignorance, so our hearts don’t stop!
My humble-lumber-birth forbade formality,
he knew I knew my wrong, in that i had belief
& would forgive us long as we choired threnodies.
Hermetically he seals the O within itself:
the vivum argentum O psyches prize as high as gold;
one must unbuckle limp personae’s guise for proof.
Their aplomb pride wore like a charm and ailing greed
were gimleted into their magpie smirks. Tendrils
of thorn-edged-vine burst from his finger tips and sped
about their throats till their tough countenance did pall,
their mortal gain diverted to atone their shame:
his unshod feet pressed lightly upon hilts of gale
winds strewing dandelion children through his thumb
chub gamboling forest of hair, both sword and ghostly stair
that wind; the trust of creatures, by his love became.
His vine wrapped round their organs to the strum of lyre,
he changed their blood to sap, their muscular limbs to bark;
what waste they’d caused they now became, slaves to nature.
His ancientness concealed in-boy began to speak
within my chest without an uttered syllable;
my guilt I would un-wound as reveller of twin snakes.