Today, and for the next few days, I want to talk a little bit about rhyme. In the textbook (Introduction to Poetry, 7th Ed., Kennedy), it’s spelled rime, but I always get corrected whenever I spell it that way, so I’m going with rhyme.
According to the textbook rhyme can be assonance or alliteration (or rather those two can be a form of rhyme), so the end consonant or end vowel sound for two or more words can be the same and that can count as rhyming, but it is not the official definition of it. In order to be a genuine rhyme, the vowel sounds have to either be same or similar along with all of the following consonant (and vowel) sounds that follow (they too must be the same or at least similar).
With exact rhymes, says the textbook, “sounds following the vowel sound have to be the same: ‘red’ and ‘bread’, ‘wealthy’ and ‘stealthy’, ‘walk to her’ and ‘talk to her’.”
But rhyming is an art. In order to not make your poem sound like a nursery rhyme (for that matter nursery rhymes might end up sounding more sophisticated than a poem written by an inept rhymer), rhymes must be used in surprising ways. If the reader knows what the word will be before he reaches the end of the line, then the word has been poorly chosen. There are several words are used too frequently by poets to rhyme with: death, breath, birth, earth, mirth. The book put in an amusing poem by Alexander Pope which instructs the poet on how not to rhyme.
Where’er you find “the cooling western breeze,”
In the next line it “whispers through the trees,”
If crystal streams “with pleasing murmurs creep,”
The reader’s threatened (not in vain) with “sleep”
Pope is annoyed. It sounds like he’s thinking, “Oh my god, every time I read ‘the cooling western breeze’ it always ‘whispers through the trees’. So boring! And the word creep is always rhymed with sleep!” And I have to say, from here until eternity or just today, that Alexander Pope, really is no dope, a rhyme that really pleases, shouldn’t be as predictable as three sneezes. (I’m letting out my inner Dr. Seuss.)
I’d like to expand more on the topic of what makes a good poem and a bad one, because there is also ways to use expected words but still make the line fresh, by using the context of the line in a way that is surprising. But I’m going to leave that for tomorrow.
Instead I’m going to stick with the topic of using surprising rhyming words to engage the reader in which this next poem fits perfectly. You definitely won’t know what the end word will be in this fun little ditty. It’s really not a deep T.S. Eliot or D.H. Lawrence commentary on society (nor is it a luxurious experiment in the beauty of Oscar Wilde imagery and sound), just a fun little poem about a guy and his boat. But it does do a good job of illustrating how the end words can be a surprise to the reader.
On My Boat On Lake Cayuga
by William Cole
On my boat on Lake Cayuga
I have a horn that goes “Ay-oogah!”
I’m not the modern kind of creep
Who has a horn that goes “beep beep.”