Thursday, March 02, 2017

Anthony Madrid's Defense of Rhyme



You want to know about rhyme, you ask Anthony Madrid.  Trust me on this.  Here's the beginning of his new essay, "A Gallery of Rhymes from Palgrave's Golden Treasury," the latest installment in the "Essays & Commentary" section I edit for Plume

Spring, the sweet Spring, is the year's pleasant king;
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing, 
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

This is the first stanza of a short poem by Thomas Nash. I have “bolded” the rhyme words, as I shall be doing throughout these notes.
The poem first appeared in Summer’s Last Will and Testament (1592), a play that no one has read in hundreds of years. The poem occurs near the beginning of the play. It is a song.
There is another poem from Summer’s Last Will that is more famous nowadays, I mean the one with the refrain “I am sick, I must die. / Lord have mercy on us.” Naturally, it occurs at the end of the play.
“I am sick, I must die” did not make it into Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. “Spring, the sweet spring” did. Nothing else by Nash is in there. However, it was used as the first poem on page 1. “Book First,” first poem: “Spring, the sweet spring.”
It was a bold choice. It only has one good line in it. However, that line is repeated three times in thirteen lines: “Cuckoo, jug-jug,” etc. Palgrave and the other people on his secret committee (which included Tennyson), had no doubts about this piece.
Forget the good line. Look at the rhymes. At least two things worth commenting on. Number one, the fact that you get not a rhyme pair but a rhyme hexagon. That’s not common. Number two, it’s not an equilateral hexagon. What do I mean by that.
I mean the status of the words sting and ring is quite inferior to that of spring, king, thing, and sing. Look in any concordance to any lyrical poet’s works. You’ll find the words sting and ring are not used as rhymes with anywhere near the frequency that the other four are.
Your concordance will also show that the rhyme pair {spring|sing} beats any other combination of those six words, probably by a factor of ten-to-one. The reason is obvious, we needn’t get into it.
The crazy thing is: If you rank the words by frequency, you’ll find the “pecking order” is more or less the same among poets born in the same generation. This is because lyric poets are a bunch of brainless babblers, just as we ourselves are. They want more than anything else for their song or poem to sound like a song or a poem, and so they are forced by powers larger than themselves to say things like “Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king.” It can’t be helped.
But I’m about to say something very important. There was nothing wrong in 1592, and there is nothing wrong in 2017, with using the same rhyme pairs over and over and over. You can call {sing|spring} a “rhyme cliché” if you want, but that attitude leads to flushing six sevenths of world literature down the toilet. 
More on this hereafter.

Hereafter begins here, where the whole essay can be found.