Poetry rant–what became of rhymes?

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  • I recently finished a book of 150 poems based upon the Psalms. I included a variety of styles, for example, free form, Haiku, limerick, and even a sonnet. As I was doing some background reading about publishing poetry, one message I consistently read was that poetry that rhymes is often considered passe or trite and that editors will often reject poetry that rhymes.

    This view seems misguided to me. First, let me explain that I love free form poetry, perhaps even preferring it to other styles, but I wonder if rejecting rhyme is short-sighted. Certainly, poets of an earlier age were comfortable with rhyme. It also fosters discipline in the writer, perhaps akin to scales for the musician. Finally, we typically still expect our musical lyrics to rhyme. Why? It facilitates remembrance. I have no trouble remembering John Piper’s poem “What is Sovereign Grace?” because of its pace and rhyme.

    I would love any additional insight, pushback, or frank correction from the more learned amongst our number.



    Love Up
    Love Down
    Love In
    Love Out

    I’m sure I’m not more learned, but I agree with you about rhyme. I don’t like to see anyone throwing out any particular form (or proclaiming something hopelessly out of style). I think the more structured forms can call forth more from some artists than free verse or stream of consciousness. Let the poet, singer, artist, whatever choose what best communicates the mood, thought, or message. Maybe the gatekeepers need to let the consumers of art decide rather than narrowing their choices on the supply side. Thanks, Jason.

    George Herbert is my favorite poet, so I share your disdain for the disdain of editors toward poetry with rhymes. Not that being a snob about free verse is preferable, but forms, as Wendell Berry has noted, have the great virtue of confounding us: “The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

    On a lighter note, P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster once said of Rockmetteler Todd that he

    . . . had his scheme of life worked out to a fine point. About once a month he would take three days writing a few poems; the other three hundred and twenty-nine days of the year he rested. I didn’t know there was enough money in poetry to support a chappie, even in the way in which Rocky lived; but it seems that, if you stick to exhortations to young men to lead the strenuous life and don’t shove in any rhymes, American editors fight for the stuff. Rocky showed me one of his things once. It began:



    The past is dead.

    To-morrow is not born.

    Be to-day!


    Be with every nerve,

    With every muscle,

    With every drop of your red blood!


    It was printed opposite the frontispiece of a magazine with a sort of scroll round it, and a picture in the middle of a fairly-nude chappie, with bulging muscles, giving the rising sun the glad eye. Rocky said they gave him a hundred dollars for it, and he stayed in bed till four in the afternoon for over a month.

    P. G. Wodehouse, The Aunt and the Sluggard, in My Man Jeeves (1919).

    One of my favorite aspects of rhyming poetry is that it forces an increase in vocabulary (even if slight), and makes for much easier memorization, particularly for children!

    I’m a fan of humorous rhyming poetry, because my grandfather wrote it often (Seussical creations), and we have carried on the tradition. It makes learning all manner of subjects much easier when the facts can be put to rhyme. We generally do this for history and science… and admittedly bond through composition of off the cuff odes to ridiculous nonsense such as elementary school recorder concert fiascos and McGriddle disasters (though I suppose that disclosure adioses the intellectual aspect of the discussion;)).

    Amber Nobles

    I have a book about dragons that I borrowed from the library, and it contains many “dragon riddles”. I bring this up because as I was reading them yesterday, some of them caught my breath and made me think, “Wow. How did they put that concept into rhyming words? Genius!” Riddles captivate me. Even more when they rhyme successfully!

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