Rhyme for a Reason

I am the first to admit that as an appreciator of art, I am bone lazy. I like my paintings and sculptures pretty, my music melodic, my novels to have plots and sympathetic characters, and my poetry to rhyme.

Yeah, the nerve of me!

Each weekday morning I drift into consciousness to Garrison Kiellor’s Writer’s Almanac on NPR. Each morning he reads a poem by a contemporary author. None of them rhyme. What is up with that?

I’ve been told that rhyme and rhythm are for children and song lyrics. As if Kipling wasn’t writing drinking songs? As if “Banjo” Patterson got his name because nobody in the outback could spell Benjamin? As if Robert Service wasn’t whooping it up to the strains of a ragtime piano himself?

Poetry was once written to be memorized, recited, spoken aloud, listened to. This was how people entertained themselves and one another while riding the rails as hobos, while crouched over a campfire in the back of beyond, in the officers’ mess of a remote outpost, between decks as the ship pitched in the swells.

The Iliad, when recited in ancient Greek, scans and rhymes. So do the Canterbury Tales, if you happen to be familiar with middle English. Rhyme and meter are primal. How did we lose them?

I ran across a great line in a book I read last week. The author was remembering a conversation he had with a college English professor. The professor said that in Dickens’ time great literature was written to appeal to an audience of millions, but today great literature is written to appeal to a few hundred. I say that if only a few hundred get your stuff, you’re doing it wrong.

Screw artistic pretentiousness— give me something I’ll enjoy.

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