Of Rhyme & Reason No2—The reason the rhymer rhymes their rhymes

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.

25 Comments Add yours

  1. Great essay, though I value tradition, I also agree with the need to be contemporary. If we demand everyone constrain themselves with rhyme and regular trochees or iambs, a whole generation of literary output would be gone. Like how a barrier reduces the water flow to a slight trickle.

    I feel another important point is what you are working with, for example, it is very easy to rhyme in Italian, but not in English. However, English has more words and a much wider vocabulary.

    Thus, effective free verse, where rich narrative vocabulary is supported at the proper time by convenient ornaments (i.e. alliteration, rhyme, accented syllables) is in my view the best way to write in English–The clever deployment of the asymmetrical and combined.

  2. Great essay, though I value tradition, I also agree with the need to be contemporary. If we demand everyone constrain themselves with rhyme and regular trochees or iambs, a whole generation of literary output would be gone. Like how a barrier reduces the water flow to a slight trickle.

    I feel another important point is what you are working with, for example, it is very easy to rhyme in Italian, but not in English. However, English has more words and a much wider vocabulary.

    Thus, effective free verse, where rich narrative vocabulary is supported at the proper time by convenient ornaments (i.e. alliteration, rhyme, accented syllables) is in my view the best way to write in English–the clever deployment of the asymmetrical and combined.

    1. You make a telling point: English is rich in vocabulary & it makes for a dense poetry, good for narrative & description which can be potentially lost if rhyme is not administered accurately.
      Anything is possible with English & experimentation in poetry is not something i am concerned with, this essay was really aimed at people starting to write & to express the importance of tradition for learning; as i expressed in the 1st essay, it becomes unconscious, your poetry becomes melodic & taut without obeying the regulatory hand of tradition directly. Much like a gymnast or archer shouldn’t deliberate excessively but act.

      1. Good point, its like cursive, once you know how to print, you can form good cursive. Once you’ve immersed yourself in the classics, you naturally absorb the eloquence and can curate words more effectively.

        Also, and this is important: I like the picture of the journal with the coffee. It really fits the mood. I would like to see more pictures of your journal. My only suggestion would be that you photograph the coffee before you drink it. I don’t know why, but a warm cup of coffee really enhances the ambience, and I suspect this little preference of mine is prevalent.

      2. That is an exacting analogy.
        It isn’t that you can create like the classics but yhat you have techniques to hand.
        The photo of my journal was suitable & will hopefully inspire hard work for people trying to write poetry.
        The empty coffee & orange peel reflect the spent energy. Perhaps more indicatvive of effort than a full cup.

      3. Thanks, also I agree with the orange peel and effort, but I just feel the coffee should be at least visible when photographed. Too full and it would look kind of fake , but empty feels kind of down. It could be just me, but coffee and co-working spaces (i.e. coffee shops/lounges) are increasingly popular. You could increase the visual appeal of your essays by more strategic photos of coffee, pastries, newspapers, magazines, and or your journal in your cafe.

  3. You veered into the territory of your post on authenticity in the 5 th paragraph.I like the idea of locating the plot in the poem like a fractal. I really enjoyed reading this- give me another week to get to part 3!

    1. really pleased they are finding an audience. even more pleased that you’ve taken something from them.
      Kenneth Burke in his ‘Philosophy of Literary Form’ had an essay called ‘Literature as Equipment for Living’ & the premise was basically that any novel can be whittled down to a proverb. i thought the same could be done with the rhyme scheme of a poem & voila.
      i hit a wall with the authenticity stuff— it’s ever present in my mind, but i need to hit on that spark to set me off on what i need to do with it. i have ideas, but not that spark. it’ll come though.

      1. Sounds like an interesting essay. The spark will no doubt come when you least expect it.

      2. always the way. once that spark comes though it is incredible how rapidly everything falls into place.

      3. yes- I love that feeling of ‘flow’

      4. like voodoo or getting rogered by the Holy Ghost

      5. I can’t say you took the words right out of my mouth.

      6. An honest admission. Sorry if you’re religious. i do respect the right to believe. i’d actually rather be devotely religious than a genius; i am neither but belief seems to me something very special.

      7. No not religious I found it funny but surprising. I guess the element of surprise is a big factor in humour. I think I’d rather be a genius. Belief can sometime mean blindness and lack of appreciation for the vastness of what you don’t know. Give me a genius who understands the limitations of his/her knowledge any day.

      8. that sounds good too. but i think to be utterly clueless, to believe so intensely in an after life would be a beautiful thing. yes we can say it is a blindness’. i absolutely agree, but belief is blind to the believer so much that they are incorrigible. that sort of wool over the eyes way of living appeals to me, but i will never have it, because from outside i see the ‘blindness’. i am fascinated by Atheist converts to religion. one of my favorite poets & a lecturer at my university was— went from Atheist to Catholic. i just don’t see how that is possible. Michael Symmons Roberts is his name, an astonishing poet of rare perceptiveness & a fantastic technician of language, well worth a read.

      9. Yes, atheist to religious is strange, but perhaps it comes with ageing and mortality becoming an unavoidable issue to confront. Mind you, atheism requires the same kind of staunch belief as some religious folk have – both are certain of their view as the only truth. I will look up that poem one of these days- my list of good intentions in reading is getting long.

      10. the god awful man Alain de Botton, who is just intolerable has plans to open a temple of atheism in London, which is just a ridiculous waste of time & effort, but the silly little prick seems to have nothing else to do. i think he wanted to raise millions for it. daft.

      11. Hmmm I seem to keep hearing about his ‘school of life’ and what little I have read of it sounds quite good and interesting. From what I have read, it is the idea of an agnostic rather than an atheist, but I don’t really know much about him. I did hear of the temple for atheism but didn’t know it was his idea- that is daft- at the very least call it a club house rather than alluding to religions that atheists reject, although it is totally honest too in that atheism is practically a religion. I have a hard time with atheists- or rather, with atheists who push their views on others or feel they have superior intelligence or moral frameworks- but I guess the same can be said for the religious zealots too. So much in our life journey is personal and solo- I just don’t like it when people encroach on that personal space.

      12. nobody likes a know-it-all. if confronted with a know it all, i like to play dumb, just to make them angry.

      13. & if anyone wants to fight me i jump on the floor screaming & thrashing as if i’m having an epileptic fit.

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