Monday, September 11, 2006

on verse

I had alot of time to kill on the bus trip back from Canberra, and so I was reading through my English textbook (The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 5th edition, so not too bad at all)for about three hours. This is just so that you understand the cotext in which I came up with the idea for this post.

Why do people always associate poetry with rhyme? It doesn't have to be the case. And I think that most people would know that alot of poetry doens't rhyme, or is at least not in rhyming couplets. This is not even a new idea. It's not just these new-fangled poets who dispense with tradition and so rhyme. Old English poetry doesn't rhyme, it alliterates instead. Shakespeare often wrote in blank verse which means NO RHYMING. Robert Browning doesn't always write in rhyme. In short, poetry doesn't necessarily equal rhyme even before the 21st century.
Now, I have to confess that I am a bit biased in this as I always thought that rhyming couplets tend to sound silly. And abab structure, or something a bit more sophisticated like that, that I was fine with, but no couplets for me and blank verse for preference. I have recently realised the error of my ways, however. For if you look at the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, written by no less than the great Chaucer, you will find that it is in rhyming couplets. The thing is, I didn't even notice this for a long time, because he writes so well it sounds natural. Which is of course the key to couplets. You can use them to finish off a poem, taht works, you can write a whole poem in them for comic effect, but if you want to do anything else you'd better be really, really good, or you're just going to sound silly. I warn all you poets out there, beware the rhyming couplet. Turns out rhythm is more essential than rhyme. Although you should read 'Columbus' by Ogden Nash. It only illustrates my point of course, but it's very funny.
In English now we are studying some sonnets by Edmund Spencer, called 'Amoretti'. I think they're a little dull personally. But I tried to write a sonent myself, and it's very, very hard. You don't know where to start. I have a quatrain and a half of (roughly) iambic pentameter, but it's also a little dull. Doesn't matter, mostly I'm just excited to feel like I finally understand what iambic pentameter is. Only three or four years into my English degree... (I had it explained to me before, maybe last year, but feel able to understand only now)

I see I got a little distracted from actually arguing anything, but my final thoughts will perhaps digress even further. They are: those old poets were truly impressive! They wrote so much, so skillfully; because those verse form are hard to master. Poetry in general is a hard thing to do, so I am filled with new found respect for those who do it well.


  1. Hey Cat,

    I think the main reason most people associate poetry with 'rhyme' is because it's easier to comprehend than trying to understand poetry that doesn't rhyme. It's like how 'art' is 'paint on a canvas' because the concept of anything else being classified as 'art' just boggles the mind.

    At present I'm trying to comprehend how the Skaldic poets decided that 'different vowels surrounded by the same consonants' constituted rhyme. So you know, it's a wacky old world we live in.

  2. I agree with sean's beard. Damn that sounds strange. But yea, easier to comprehend, and also easier to remember and understand.

    Personally I like limericks. Like:
    I'm papering walls in the loo
    And quite frankly I haven't a clue;
    For the pattern's all wrong
    (Or the paper's too long)
    And I'm stuck to the toilet with glue.

  3. I just found a webcomic that I think you'd like, Cat.


    Also, my word verification is "wshup". The universe is talking to me.


  5. And also: "Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog"! Best thing ever.

    This entry has Princess Bride references:

    And I particularly loved the review of "Serpentes on a Shippe"

  6. Checkit! He replies to comments!

    "Ich am but a povre scholere sekyng hir maisteres degre in study of Englysshe, and Ich am consideryng piracye as a career opcioun. Now that yow hav lived hir lyf for a tyme, what thynk yow?

    Ma Chere Elissa,

    The difference bitwene pyracie and academicks ys so smalle that eyther opcioun shalle haue for yow the same resultes. Yn both cases, ye werke yn cramped condiciouns, and vndir tyme constrayntes, and do face manye folke who wolde fayne nat haue yow ther, and yet ye haue felaweshipe, and a grete deale of strong drinke, and eek a specialisede vocabularie the whiche othir peple vndirstonden nat. Al thogh fewe academicks weare eye-patches.

    Le Vostre

    Best. THing. Ever.

    Today must be a good day, for a great many things have been the best thing ever this evening.

    Also, word verification: hooqy (!)

  7. Oh my goodness, 'tis a blesse'd day indeed!

    This article is actually about Troilus and Cresside! And therefore academically relevant to you! Brilliant!

    To enlarge the article, try this link;

  8. wow, that webcomic is way mathematical... Yet to check out Chaucer blog, have been too busy reading webcomics :)