‘R’ is for Rime and Rhythm

LetterRI wrote a lot of poetry when I was younger, much of it full of adolescent angst and romantic yearnings. Then, as I matured, the poetry became experimental and exploratory. I learnt that a poem didn’t have to depend on a strict rhyme scheme as long as there was a rhythm, a flow, that allowed me to read them aloud without any awkward long lines or forced rhymes. It became more difficult to write what I felt was a reasonable poem as I raised the bar along the way, and now I have moved on to writing long prose works otherwise known as novels in the fantasy genre.

Nevertheless, there is something pure about poetry, as there is in its close relation, song. Words are honed down to their essential meaning and gathered together in a form that expresses a lot in a short form. But now, let’s examine the two aspects of poetry (and song) that make it special and so easy on the ear.

I used the early spelling form ‘Rime’ in the heading as a reminder of its original spelling back in the 13th Century and surviving until the 18th Century. It is conjectured that Rime was a French adaptation of the German Rim for number. The modern spelling of Rhyme gradually became the norm in succeeding centuries, and its origin has a common ancestor to Rhythm in Rhythmos. And that makes the association of rhyme and rhythm all the more engaging.

Rhyme is used in many ways. Rappers often use a repetitive single rhyme, for example, heard, bird, word, gird , which are all spelled differently but sound the same. Older classic poetry forms used such arrangements as rhyming couplets, where the end words of two consecutive lines rhymed; or alternate rhyme, in which only the last words in alternate lines rhymed.  Sonnets commonly adopted an abba rhyme scheme (first and fourth line rhyming; and the second and third being a rhyming couplet. This could vary in the following lines.

Rhyme usually goes by the sound of the word being the same, but sometimes there is what is called ‘eye rhyme’ in which similar spelling is used but pronunciation differs, for example, love and move. Rhyme can also occur within the line rather than at the end.

The mention of sonnets — classic poems of 14 lines — also brings us to the subject of rhythm, which refers to a specific beat in the structure of the text. Shakespearean sonnets adopted a rhythm known as iambic pentameter. This referred to the stresses on each syllable and the number of those coupled feet in a line. An iambic beat has an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable, and pentameter means that there are five of those feet beats to the line. Thus it goes: da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM. Poet John Keats’ piece To Autumn used this beat as follows:

To swell / the gourd, /and  plump/ the haz/el shells

Of course, there are many rhythms that are used in poetry and music, and these help to lift us up out of the mundane of each day. Ah, music to the ear!