Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reasoning Rhyme: Making It New

In the previous post in this series, I briefly explored why rhyme terminology was ripe for revision. In this post, I set out the basics of a revised terminology. At one point, this entails using a wee bit more involved terminology from linguistics, which I'll explain in a supplementary post so that this one doesn't get too unwieldy. However, I'll post this one before the supplement is ready, because I think you'll get most of what I have to say without the background stuff.

In the new terminology, rich and perfect rhyme are brought together under the heading twin rhyme and termed identical and fraternal rhyme respectively. “Imperfect rhyme” is replaced with relative rhyme, which is subdivided into close and distant rhyme.

Two types of close rhyme are identified: nuclear and peripheral. In nuclear rhyme, the vowels are identical, while the onsets and codas are related, e.g., made:face. This would traditionally be termed assonance, although the definition of assonance includes no reference to the correspondences in the onsets and codas. In peripheral rhyme, which would traditionally be called consonance, the onsets and codas are identical but the vowels are not, e.g., brutes:brats.

Distant relative rhyme subdivides into removed and remote. In removed rhyme, which is traditionally labelled pararhyme, either the onset or the coda is identical, but other constituents of the syllable are related, e.g., stick:pluck. In remote rhymes, there is no identity, but all segments in the syllable exhibit some relationship to their partners in the other fellow.

All these classes apply to masculine and feminine rhymes, although the only nuclear rhymes I've found so far are masculine. Some feminine rhymes may be compounds of more than one class, and I'll talk about that in the next post.

The new terms have a number of advantages:

  • they unify the terms for segmental correspondence in rhyme, as it bases them all based on kinship terms, which furnish an obvious metaphor for such correspondence;
  • although the terms are still not fully transparent, they are clearer than their traditional counterparts;
  • they classify rhyme in terms of a clear continuum of segmental correspondence, from the greatest (in identical twin rhyme) to the weakest (in remote rhyme), as opposed to the rather haphazard fashion of the old terms;
  • they contain no implicit value judgements, thus allowing for a better characterisation of the rhyming practice of poets who favour relative rhyme; and
  • they conceive rhyme as including the onset, which, as shall be demonstrated in subsequent posts, is necessary for a full understanding of rhyme phenomena.

I've found few instances of remote rhyme, but sang:work is a clear one. It occurs in the fourth stanza of Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper”, which uses an ababccdd rhyme scheme in each stanza. The remote a-rhyme sang:work, appears in ll.25, 27. Apart from the a-rhyme in the first stanza, which is removed (field:self, ll.1,3), the rest of the rhyme scheme is fraternal. Thus, by the time the reader reaches the fourth stanza, it is well established that this position rhymes, but whilst a fraternal rhyme is expected, some sort of relative is possible.

Given the concept of rhyme Wordsworth was probably working with, it is likely that he didn't perceive these words as rhyming, but the segments share features nonetheless: the /s/and /w/ are both continuants and articulated forward of the hard palate; the /a/ and /@:/ are both low, unrounded vowels; the /N/and the /k/ are both velar stops. (For an explanation of these symbols, see this page.) If Wordsworth didn't perceive sang:work as a rhyme, the featural similarity of the fellows is all the more striking.

In the next post, I'll discuss some slightly more complex phenomena.


Colin Will said...

Extremely interesting posts Andy. I'm reading Ruth Padel's The Poem and the Journey at the moment, and she has some good points on rhyme (and on many other subjects).

Andrew Philip said...

Glad you're enjoying the posts, Colin. I've been thinking about getting a hold of that book of Padel's. What's the gist of her comments on rhyme?

Colin Will said...

She talks about it in terms of syllable relationships, describing first the ancient Greek metric. She then looks at the historical arguments for and against end-rhyme, from the Elizabethans to Eliot. She finishes this short section:
"You could say the syllables are molecules of movement, and that structure is the pattern in which they move."

Agree or disagree, she puts forward some very thought-provoking ideas, and she writes very well. I'm maybe biased; she was one of my poetry tutors on an Arvon course back in 1995.

Andrew Philip said...

Interesting. She's certainly right to focus on the syllable as the basic unit.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Andy, I'm working my way through your posts on rhyme and really enjoying them.

I arrived here from Jim's Blog and am glad the posted the link.

Whenever I turn to writing verse, in my head, I am a 'rhymer' or, if I'm feeling generous with myself a 'lyricist-without-any-music' - *never* a poet :)

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