Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rhyme and meter, part 4a: "But still a ruby kindles in the vine."

The examples in my previous post may have been a little too anomalous, but they were partly designed to show that generally we don't even think about whether a line rhymes or not. We sort of know it. What makes things interesting, and what those examples were meant to bring out a little bit more than usually, is what it means to "sort of" know that a line rhymes. Or rather how much "sort of rhyming" just means the same thing as rhyming, and how much it doesn't.

What I am after is the experience we might have when we try to reconstruct a half-remembered poem. We might go wrong by trying to find a rhyme for an unrhymed line, or we might fail to remember that a particular line did rhyme. Form will help, of course: in a Spenserian stanza, all the lines rhyme; in a quatrain the odd lines could easily fail to. But sometimes the line itself will bring with it its own obscure metadata: this line rhymes; this line doesn't. How is that metadata compressed into, distributed over, the line itself? I've been giving examples where I think the "metadata" are more interesting, more ambiguous, than usual.

Take the line that I played with: "But still a ruby kindles in the vine." I suggested three prosodical contexts for it: in a blank verse quatrain, a quatrain rhymed xaxa, and one rhymed abab. I should have offered a fourth, and will do so here. The third of the four improvisations below is new:

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.


When with the sun depart the jewels of day
The jewels of night, though dark, are just as fine:
No glistering diamond shineth in the dew
But still a ruby kindles in the vine.


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.

The bolded stanza differs from the second by rhyming "vine," just as the last one does; but differs also in that it's the only one in which the line we're concerned about concludes the stanza. It's hard, as I say, not to feel that the attention we're paying to the line now alters how we feel about it, makes it difficult to say really how much attention we would have paid in the normal course of reading. But maybe the original context will be novel enough, after all of this, that you can read it with fresh eyes while noting, on the fly, the line's effect:
Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.
A Rubaiyat stanza, because it's one of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat. Note that it's the only line that doesn't rhyme. Rubaiyat rhyme aaxa, and this is the x-line. But generally we don't notice the x lines as different in rubaiyat: really, they seem a breath taken before the last, decisively rhyming line, and make that last rhyme feel all the more decisive.

So they contribute to rhyme, and the way they do so is metrical and rhythmical. And the concept that we might derive from them is this: the adjacency of the experience of true rhyme to that of the metrical setting up of, the metrical structuring of, the line that rhymes. This structuring can occur within a line (pretty obviously: the Indoeuropean rule for meter is: loose onsets, strict endings, and they are all the stricter for rhyming), but it can also occur from one line to the next, from an unrhymed line introducing a rhymed one, or even a rhymed line introducing another, either through alternation or even as a couplet. (I think Dryden's triplets often work the same way: the gentle shock of mild surprise at the unexpected continuation of a rhyme says something similar about how rhyme may be structured by elements outside the line it appears in.)

This structuring is what makes us feel (if we do) the unrhymed rhymes in Carrol's "Mad Gardener's Song," which I cited before:
He thought he saw an Elephant
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
"At length I realize," he said,
"The bitterness of life!"

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
"Unless you leave this house," he said,
"I'll send for the police!"

he thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
"The one thing I regret," he said,
"Is that it cannot speak!"
Elephant, Buffalo, Rattlesnake don't rhyme. Their initial caps give them a certain solid dignity, though, and entitle them to be heard as cretics rather than dactyls, and indeed cretics verging on anapests: elePHANT, buffaLO, rattleSNAKE. They don't rhyme but the strongly suggest rhyme, if not their own than at least of the poem they belong to. And it seems that experientially the suggestion of rhyme and rhyme itself tend to merge.

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