Saturday, July 11, 2009

To Rhyme or not to Rhyme

One of the judges at last Sunday's satire competition expressed the opinion that real poetry should rhyme. Presumably this is in the oft expressed belief that all poetry in the past was written in rhyme. Not so.

John Milton wrote Paradise Lost in blank verse without rhymes. In the second edition his printer asked him to include a note about the absence of rhymes, presumably there had been complaints. This is what Milton wrote:

THE VERSE: THE Measure is English Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of Homer in Greek, and Virgil in Latin; Rhime 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 Meeter; grac't indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom, but much to thir own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse then else they would have exprest them.

Not without cause therefore some both Italian, and Spanish Poets of prime note have rejected Rhime both in longer and shorter Works, as have also long since our best English Tragedies, as a thing of itself, to all judicious ears, triveal, and of no true musical delight; which consists onely 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 avoyded by the learned Ancients both in Poetry and all good Oratory.

This neglect then of Rhime so little is to be taken for a defect, though it may seem so perhaps to vulgar Readers, that it rather is to be esteem'd an example set, the first in English, of ancient liberty recover'd to heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing.

Milton was a master of polemic and wasn't afraid to attack vulgar readers who demanded this jingling sound of like endings which caused vexation, hindrance and constraint.

Of course there are some rhymes in Paradise Lost and Milton used rhymes in other poems, the sonnets obviously and also Lycidas.

My piece of satirical poetry last Sunday night had a very strong rhyme scheme throughout, luckily!.


Peter Goulding said...

Ahh, one of my favourite themes!! My own perception is that very often the "masses" whoever they are, like poetry to rhyme, whereas the cognoscenti look down on rhyme because it is too restrictive, as Milton pointed out. If you look at books of modern poetry or indeed poetry competitions, rhyming is few and far between (with the exception of humorous verse or satire)
Rhyme or non-rhyme? It is harder obviously to write good rhyming poetry, as you have to make the rhymes natural. Which might explain why non-rhyming poetry is more plentiful?

Michael Farry said...

Hmmm Peter. Nowadays writers seem to be as contemptuous of easy rhymes as they are of forced rhymes. I think that the struggle to find a suitable rhyme or half rhyme or slant rhyme often makes the poet work harder to find the best words. The strain to satisfy the need to rhyme, like metric constraints, can often result in better poetry. Good poetry, rhymed or unrhymed, is surely just as difficult to write.

Peter Goulding said...

Interesting, Michael. I would argue that it is harder to paint a good picture using only reds and yellows, rather than having the whole palette at your disposal. Though I take your point that a good painting is a good painting, no matter how many colours are used and that the constraints of only using two colours might make the creative juices flow!