Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rhyme and meter, part 3: What we can hear, and what they could

I'll want to return to my previous set of examples in a future post; here I want to start by considering one more.  A naive historian of rhyme might think that what doesn't sound like a rhyme to us ("hand or eye / symmetry") would have been more natural in a different dialect or pronunciation.  True we can hear eye as diphthongized (as the unlovely linguistic term has it): the slow-motion pronunciation would decompress it to "ah-ee" (the way Mark Twain or Kate Chopin might write it).  That tweak would turn this into a natural rhyme, which sounds forced only to those who pronounce as we do, here, now.

But it's harder to say the same of the near parallel, and very frequent rhymes on internal "i" sounds.  Shakespeare and Donne, to quote the two most obvious examples, rhyme such words as wind and mind. (The doggerel rhyme to Rosalind in As You Like It in my first example has taught generations of actors how to pronounce her name: majority rhyme seems to win, though I think it would be interesting to go with the early returns that turn out to be the minority: Ind and wind.)
From the east to western Ind,
No jewel is like Rosalind.
Her worth, being mounted on the wind,
Through all the world bears Rosalind.
All the pictures fairest lined
Are but black to Rosalind.
Let no fair be kept in mind
But the fair of Rosalind. 
* * *
If a hart do lack a hind,
Let him seek out Rosalind.
If the cat will after kind,
So be sure will Rosalind.
Winter garments must be lined,
So must slender Rosalind.
They that reap must sheaf and bind;
Then to cart with Rosalind.
Sweetest nut hath sourest rind,
Such a nut is Rosalind.
He that sweetest rose will find
Must find love's prick and Rosalind. 

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
            And find
            What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.
Remember that Wyatt, too, knows where is an hind, though in a net he seeks to catch the wind.  Nor let us forget Arlo Guthrie's great motorcycle song, which has him, as needed, rhyming pickle with motor-sickle, and die with motor-sigh- / (cul), as his folk rock pronunciation allows.

So wind/mind is okay, but you'll never find (I do not think) weened/mind, though that would seem a closer parallel to eye/symmetry or (say) we/my.

So here's the passage I want to think about, from Sidney, the octet of Atrophel and Stella 86:

Alas, whence came this change of lookes? if I
Haue chang'd desert, let mine owne conscience be
A still felt plague, to selfe condemning me:
Let wo gripe on my heart, shame loade mine eye,
But if all faith, like spotlesse Ermine ly
Safe in my soule, which onely doth to thee
(As his sole object of felicitie)
With wings of Loue in aire of wonder flie....

Note that the rhyme scheme is obvious here abbaabba.  But this isn't inevitable: some of the sonnets rhyme (in their octets) abababab, and if eye can rhyme with me, it would seem that some could argue that the latter rhyme scheme governs here as well. We're facing here an example of the sort of thing that Wittgenstein ponders when he considers the problem of rule-following: there is a rule that can justify any sequence.  (My favorite recent example is the sequence that begins sweetly enough as 0, 1, 2, but whose fourth member (scroll down if this isn't of tremendous interest to you) is
260,121,894,356,579,510,020,490,322,708,104,361,119,152,187,501,694,578,572,754,183,785,083,563,115,694,738,224,067,857,795,813,045,708,261,992,057,589,224,725,953,664,156,516,205,201,587,379,198,458,774,083,252,910,524,469,038,881,188,412,376,434,119,195,104,550,534,665,861,624,327,194,019,711,390,984,553,672,727,853,709,934,562,985,558,671,936,977,407,000,370,043,078,375,899,742,067,678,401,696,720,784,280,629,229,032,107,161,669,867,260,548,988,445,514,257,193,985,499,448,939,594,496,064,045,132,362,140,265,986,193,073,249,369,770,477,606,067,680,670,176,491,669,403,034,819,961,881,455,625,195,592,566,918,830,825,514,942,947,596,537,274,845,624,628,824,234,526,597,789,737,740,896,466,553,992,435,928,786,212,515,967,483,220,976,029,505,696,699,927,284,670,563,747,137,533,019,248,313,587,076,125,412,683,415,860,129,447,566,011,455,420,749,589,952,563,543,068,288,634,631,084,965,650,682,771,552,996,256,790,845,235,702,552,186,222,358,130,016,700,834,523,443,236,821,935,793,184,701,956,510,729,781,804,354,173,890,560,727,428,048,583,995,919,729,021,726,612,291,298,420,516,067,579,036,232,337,699,453,964,191,475,175,567,557,695,392,233,803,056,825,308,599,977,441,675,784,352,815,913,461,340,394,604,901,269,542,028,838,347,101,363,733,824,484,506,660,093,348,484,440,711,931,292,537,694,657,354,337,375,724,772,230,181,534,032,647,177,531,984,537,341,478,674,327,048,457,983,786,618,703,257,405,938,924,215,709,695,994,630,557,521,063,203,263,493,209,220,738,320,923,356,309,923,267,504,401,701,760,572,026,010,829,288,042,335,606,643,089,888,710,297,380,797,578,013,056,049,576,342,838,683,057,190,662,205,291,174,822,510,536,697,756,603,029,574,043,387,983,471,518,552,602,805,333,866,357,139,101,046,336,419,769,097,397,432,285,994,219,837,046,979,109,956,303,389,604,675,889,865,795,711,176,566,670,039,156,748,153,115,943,980,043,625,399,399,731,203,066,490,601,325,311,304,719,028,898,491,856,203,766,669,164,468,791,125,249,193,754,425,845,895,000,311,561,682,974,304,641,142,538,074,897,281,723,375,955,380,661,719,801,404,677,935,614,793,635,266,265,683,339,509,760,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 --

a number with 1,747 digits. But there's a rule for that.*  Wittgenstein wants to know what makes a rule the right rule to follow, when there's no rule that could make it the right rule to follow that couldn't itself be followed in an infinite number of different ways.  His answer, more or less, is practice ratified by the relationship of learning and teaching the belongs to "agreement in forms of life."  Hannah Ginsborg, more or less in agreement with Stanley Cavell, calls such agreement in forms of life "primitive normativity."

Anyhow, back to our example.  Sidney likes partially ambiguous forms.  The famous "night and day" sonnet has only two rhyme words:
Now that of absence the most irksome night,
With darkest shade doth ouercome my day;
Since Stellas eyes wont to giue me my day,
Leauing my Hemisphere, leaue me in night,
Each day seemes long, and longs for long-staid night,
The night as tedious, wooes th'approch of day;
Tired with the dustie toyles of busie day,
Languisht with horrors of the silent night;
Suffering the euils both of the day and night,
While no night is more darke then is my day,
Nor no day hath lesse quiet then my night:
With such bad mixture of my night and day,
That liuing thus in blackest winter night,
I feele the flames of hottest sommer day.
Two rhyme words, but what's the rhyme scheme?  I think it's too easy to stay with just a and b: most sonnets in Astrophel and Stella have four or five different rhyme pairs, typically rhymed abbaabbacdcdee, sometimes, e.g. the sonnet previous to this one, ababababccdeed, and again sometimes, as in the one before that, ababbabaccdccd.  I think it would be better, and more natural, to "chunk" the night and day sonnet as rhymed abbaabbacdcdee: the rule of the sonnet form seems to require that.

Note that we're already chunking by taking homoteleuton (or repetition of endings) as rhyme.  "Night" doesn't rhyme with "night," not even richly.  It repeats the word (as in a sestina, the form Sidney introduced into English).   You might almost call it a duina, at least the part that cycles night day day night night day day night. (On the relation of n-inas to prime numbers, see this short paper which proves that if an n-ina cycles, 2n+1 is prime: 5 in the case of a duina, where n=2. The converse doesn't hold, though.) In Dante, except for the repeated endings on "Christ" - which must not be adulterated by the arbitrary similarity of rhyming words - repetition is always rime riche: this is a principle of interpretation, so that you can understand an ambiguous word (such as torna, palma, and pianta, all rhymed with homonyms in Paradiso IX) as requiring difference in meaning between its orthographically identical homonyms, which can help solve the ambiguity.

The point is that in reading rhymed poetry we assess similarity pretty subtly, and assess as well the difference that prevents similarity from just being identity. Rhymes have a lot of give, but (as with stress) how much give they have is always contextualized by the rhyme scheme that determines them, and by the rhymes that surround them.  Night and day rhyme with themselves because they belong to a sonnet with a familiar rhyme scheme; piante and piante rhyme because they belong to a rhyme schemes that eschews self-rhyming, so that they therefore don't mean the same thing.

And this allows us to return to sonnet 86, where we can have no doubt that the rhyme scheme is abbaabba. Why no doubt?  Why not abababab?  Because the prosodical context and the closeness of sound brings out, here, the difference between I and be, me and eye.  Sidney takes pains to prevent our being misled by the conventional rhyming of, say, me and eye, by making sure that the first, the a, rhyme-pair is homophonic: I/eye. We then have to work to separate them via their different meanings, and that very work of separation (as in Dante) pairs them: very similar but still different.

Sidney's fearless symmetry makes sure we keep track of what's rhyming with what, even when doing so requires some involved and subtle distinction.

And here's the payoff of the always pain-in-the-ass subtlety of following a formal analysis.  Making us keep track of the rhymes, especially in a fairly monochromatic context, is a way of infiltrating our sense of rhyme with a sense of meaning and vice versa.  These are considerations that we're used to understanding when it comes to poetic meter, where the interaction of metrical and semantic stress contributes to our understanding of what's being said.  It's interesting that there's a subtle analogue of this in rhyme as well, which suggests that the interaction, both prosodically and semantically, between rhyme and meter is closer than has usually been suspected.

*viz., 0 followed by 0 bangs = 0; 1 followed by 1 bang (1! or 1 factorial) = 1; 2!! (2 factorial factorial, 2 followed by 2 bangs = 2; 3!!! (3 factorial factorial factorial) = 720! = the foregoing.

No comments:

Post a Comment