Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Rhyme schemes - or not

Though I'm now using another blog to write specifically about poetry (and to include poems I've written myself), I've always included posts about poems and poetry on this blog too, so I'll continue to do so.

I've been reading Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled recently, and this time going through it in detail.  (I started to read it a few years back, after I saw it in a bookshop in England, but didn't go very far.)   In the section where he discusses rhyme, he uses that old system of detailing how the poem's lines rhyme by marking each line as a or b or c etc.   A common rhyme scheme, then, will be something like:
a
b
a
b. 

There are, of course, many more complicated schemes than this.   I've been reading through Les Murray's collection The Vernacular Republic: Poems 1961-1983.   I've delved into it in the past, and am already familiar with some of the poems because they come from other collections that I have, but this time I'm working systematically through it (from the end to the beginning, just to be different) and am intrigued by Murray's oddball rhyming schemes.  If 'schemes' is the correct word. 

Murray's poems are a mix of the witty and humorous (Morse, which tells the story of a Morse Code operator who does surgery on a man by receiving instruction by Morse from a doctor miles away), or the ones in which he plays with sounds and rhymes almost overwhelmingly (The Mouthless Image of God in the Hunter Colo Mountains - a crazy title that seems to have little to do with the poem which begins with the idea of a youth getting dogs to bark in the night), or the ones that philosophise about Art (Satis Passo), or ones that use foreign words and arcane English words or made up words (phallocrypt, single-bulged, cols, Orogold) that seldom or never appear in ordinary speech.   His breadth of language is always extraordinary, in fact. 


And then there are ones like The Smell of Coal Smoke which is a loosely biographical piece about his mother and grandfather.   In it he uses a common enough rhythm (though the lines are by no means always the same beat length) and mostly common language, and seems to be using a very common rhyme scheme:

aa
bb
cc
dd

This scheme comes a cropper in the second stanza where it goes to:

aaa
bb
c
a
c

The c rhyme happens to rhyme with the a rhyme in the first stanza....no doubt intentionally.

The third stanza has this scheme:

aa
bb
c
a
cc

Which appears to have nothing to do with the previous stanza, rhyme-wise.  The fourth stanza works this way:

aa
bb
cc
ab

Finally, stanza five works like this:

aa (a partial rhyme of frisson and Cornishman)
b
c
b
d
c (another partial rhyme, this time of Brown and soon - Brown has appeared more than once before)
d

Hardly conventional, and certainly disruptive if you think that he's going to go in a smooth direction, rhyme-wise.  It could be said that Murray doesn't know much about rhyme schemes.  It's more likely he does know and likes to break the mould.   Or that he's conveying something psychological by disrupting the expected flow of the piece, giving us a sense of how the boy who's 'narrating' the poem feels.   It's the same with the length of the lines, which sometimes are quite short, and sometimes seem to run out of breath.  You can read the whole poem here, and see what you think.
Post a Comment