Look out Tony Blair. Not only has Paris Hilton never heard of you, but now you’re really up against it. Traditional verse activists have launched a political offensive in the UK. Their aim? Compulsory rhymes in all contemporary poems. Or perhaps Downing Street will have to issue press releases in couplets.
Ruth Padel runs through a potted history of potty poets, as therapy after being heckled at a conference by vociferous versifiers:
Too bad: the real rallying flag for the rhyme police is end rhyme in a rhyming scheme. This battle, though, was fought over 400 years ago by cutting-edge practitioners whose blank verse (begun in English around 1540 following Italy’s versi sciolti da rima, ‘verse freed from rhyme’, developed roughly 1530) was blazing out of the language.
In 1602, Thomas Campion attacked ‘the unaptnesse of Rime in Poesie’. Bad poets, he said, ‘rime a man to death’. The ‘popularitie of Rime creates as many Poets as a hot summer flies’. Rhyme should be used ‘sparingly, lest it offend the eare with tedious affectation’…
It is fatally easy to rhyme badly. If you rhyme, it had better be fresh, better be good. Otherwise it doesn’t just spoil your poem, it betrays rhyme itself.
Milton was against it. Rhyme acts on poets as “a constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse, than else they would have exprest them”. Paradise Lost does not end-rhyme, nor much Tennyson, Wordsworth’s Prelude and Excursion, or most of Shakespeare’s plays.
I can see the bumper stickers now:
I rhyme and I vote.
Honk if you love Walter De La Mare.