Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rhyme and meter, part 4: Does that rhyme?

Can you tell when a line rhymes? I don't mean can you tell when two lines rhyme: that's usually pretty. But consider this list of lines, drawn from different poems.  Don't look them up.  Just contemplate them for a while - and, if you can, remember, where they come from, or if you can, forget.
"Childe Roland to the dark tower came"

"Lay hidden in the small-slate colored thing"

"And thee, returning on thy silver wheels"

"And wash the dusk with silver.  Soon, full soon"

"And if thou wilt, remember"

"Or just some human sleep"

"The everlasting universe of things"

"Welcome, proud lady"

"They had changed their throats and had the throats of birds"

"The dying of the golden and the grey"

"Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs"

"But still a ruby kindles in the vine"
It's probably hard to stay in the right frame of mind to really be able to think about each line, but just try.

There are a few of questions that can be asked about each one.

First of all, does it rhyme? I think in most cases, even if you don't know the poem, you'd have a pretty good guess. If so, what I'd like to ask is how you know, or seem to know.  (I think I'll try posting a sort of phenomenological description of each line, as well as the answer to the question, in a few short subsequent posts.)

Focusing on this question can give rise to further observations.  Would it matter if you knew the position of the line in the poem, or at least in a stanza?  Just for simplicity, let's distinguish between opening line, medial line, and closing line.  Can you tell which of these are last lines?

If you can tell where in a stanza each line goes, is it a sense that they rhyme, or don't rhyme, that determines where you place the line?  I ask it this way to be provocative, but also to try to get you to use fresh eyes, fresh ears.  The converse question is probably more obvious, so consider that too: would the placement of the line affect your sense of whether it rhymed?

Let's take the last line as an example: "But still a ruby kindles in the vine."  If you knew that it was the first line of a stanza, would you expect it to be an onset rhyme or not?  (Onset rhyme: the word we have in mind that a later word will resolve by rhyming with it.)  Let's be simplistic.  Which is most likely:

But still a ruby kindles in the vine;
A glistering diamond shineth in the dew.
The morning's freshness fills me with delight.
The promised evening soothes me with its rest.


But still a ruby kindles in the vine;
A glistering diamond shineth in the dew.
The morning's freshness fills me with delight.
Its early, ancient jewels are ever new.


But still a ruby kindles in the vine;
A glistering diamond shineth in the dew.
These star-flared jewels are gathered from no mine
But fall like sunlight, ever fresh and new.

It probably matters what order you read them in: form and rhyme prime us for more of that form, and if there's rhyme, for more rhyme.  But try to think of them independently, or of the line independently.  At the start of a stanza, will it rhyme?

How about in the midst of one?  At the end of one?

So try these exercises with all the lines quoted above:

First say of each line whether you think it's opening, medial, or closing.

Then try to say of each line whether it rhymes, and decide whether its place in the stanza makes a difference to whether you think it rhymes.  What kind of work, or what kind of attention, do you have to do to make it seem rhymed?  To make it seem unrhymed?

My simplified guess is that you'll be able to tell the rhymed lines just by their form in most of the cases here.  And I guess as well that the deceptions will be systematic: that some of the lines here will strike a large majority as rhyming when they don't, or as not rhyming when they do.  The ones that are deceptive in this way are all the more interesting for that.

To be continued....

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