Rhyme pt. 1

Submitted by Caleb on Fri, 05/24/2019 - 16:33

Have you ever heard someone jokingly say "It rhymes so it must be true!"?
I need hardly say that the point of the joke is to remind us that this not the case -- the fact that a statement rhymes is unrelated to its veracity.

But why do we need that reminder? Why are our minds more inclined to credit rhyming lines?

I think it's because we're always looking for connections -- we're always keeping a look out for what goes together, to find the order built into creation which sometimes seems blanketed in a cloud of chaos.

When we hear a rhyme our mind is triggered similarly to when we find a nut and a bolt -- these go together, these fit, these are meant for each other! We feel that the two parts of the sentence are truly connected, rightly tied together. We get a strong feeling that the sentence is "as it should be" when it rhymes.

And if the sentence is as it should be, doesn't that mean it's true?


Now, I do think connections can be discovered in language; for example, in studying etymology we can find the connections between words that have flowed very far apart from a single watershed long ago. And in poetry one of the things that should give us those "aha" moments are true metaphors and similes which uncover unities in God's universe. God made everything, so it makes sense that a metaphor could uncover a true connection, an affinity, between two things in His creation.

But rhymes reveal nothing about such connections. Be on guard.

The obvious truth of this can seen from two facts:

1. What rhymes in one language doesn't rhyme in another.

I just saw an ad in German that said "Ohne Saft, kein Kraft!" which may be true, but in English the sentence "Without juice, no strength!" doesn't have that same feeling of being "as it should be."

(However there is the case of "süße Füße" and "sweet feet." Coincidence, or deep connection?)

2. You can use the exact same rhyme to say the opposite idea.

The other day I heard a speaker say "We all know you can't pray the gay away." Wow, a triple rhyme! And of course the fact that it rhymes will help it stick in people's minds as a truism -- a truism reminding them that God won't deliver anyone from that sin through prayer.

The thing is "You *can* pray the gay away!" rhymes just as much!

Which is true? In the non-rhyming Bible it says: "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:27) and "With God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)

I'm glad the Bible wasn't written in rhyme. If it had been, we might wonder whether something needful was left unsaid because the words to say it didn't happen to rhyme. And we also might get that feeling one often gets while reading poetry, that the author really had another idea in mind but that the need to rhyme forced him down a different path.


One of my first rules of poetry writing is to try to avoid letting a tempting rhyme drag me into saying something weird that I don't want to say. Often I use really simple words for the rhyme to help the reader not to be distracted with the thought "Oh, he only used that outlandish word because it rhymes. He didn't really want to say that." I want the reader to feel like I'm saying what I want to say.

But check out this 90s British pop song that doesn't follow this rule:

She's got a sister
And ... how I've missed her
And on the palm of her hand is a blister
And I need more time.

Does anyone think that the author wanted to share anything about that blister -- or did the rhyme force him into making up and bringing up an irrelevant blister?

Of course just following whatever ridiculous path the rhymes lead you down can be part of the fun of comic poetry. Often our first forays into poetry are comic exactly because of this; comic poetry opens up for your use the whole storehouse of silly, babbling rhymes that can't be used in a serious poem.

But especially in serious poetry some poets drop rhyme altogether. In an introduction to his non-rhyming epic Paradise Lost, John Milton famously opined against rhyme and brought up the objection I've already mentioned of it getting in the way of expressing what you want to say:"[poets have used rhyme]much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse than else they would have expressed them."


So I think the question now is -- should we use rhyme at all?

I have set up two big cannons against it, can I defend it?

Cannon 1. We shouldn't use rhyme because it's a trickster that creates an unwarranted feeling of 'rightness'

Cannon 2. We shouldn't use rhyme because it gets in the way of saying what we want to, and makes us express ideas which we don't want to.

Author's age when written