Poetics: Proving Your Rhyme

The submission guidelines for a journal I looked at read, “No rhyming poetry.”  I feel that rhyme is nevertheless justified in poetry, but that rhyme must justify itself.  In writing rhyming poetry, it must be clear why the poem is rhyming.  I’m not referring to hip-hop conventions.

I recently read Shelley’s EPIPSYCHIDION.  Shelley assumed by means of poetic convention that his epic must rhyme.  In fact, while I’m no Shelley scholar, I think that most of his poetry, maybe all of his poetry, did rhyme and employ metrics.  Wordsworth considered Shelley a master of style, perhaps the greatest stylist of the English Romantic period.  But in reading EPIPSYCHIDION, I found the language tortured in order to unite rhyme, metrics, and sense.  I’m afraid to say the same of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  But a baroque use of language is proper for a Renaissance poet.  It would not be appropriate for Frost, and Frost masterfully writes rhyme so liquidly that it reads like prose.

On the other side of this discussion is Carl Sandburg.  He privileged immediate expression and despised the reworking of an original impression in order to form rhyme and rhythm.  So we get a massive collection of insignificance.

Making a poem rhyme for no reason is a recipe for insignificance, too.  But then, there is sense that wants to rhyme and beat.  Blake’s THE TYGER has to be in rhyme and rhythm.  Otherwise the poignant line, “When the stars threw down their spears/And water’d heaven with their tears” wouldn’t be such a dramatic shift in voice.  And the energy of the tyger wouldn’t be there without the rhyme and beat that make the tyger burn.  I started to write a poem about flowers a while back, not that I’m a Blake or Shelley by any means, and realized that a poem about something pretty and delicate should be pretty and delicate, too.  A loose set of lines wouldn’t be as formally structured as a flower is.  So the flowers spoke in rhymed stanzas of meter.

Rhyming doesn’t go in poems that exhibit a deconstruction of language as do those of Wallace Stevens and others.  (I know that Stevens wrote before deconstruction was invented.)  In his poems, any word he fancies could be called into the mix of his abstract arrangements of language.  So rhyme would be meaningless.  Even if Stevens wanted to emphasize a couplet with rhyme, it would fail, since there is essentially no emphasis anywhere in his poetry.  That’s the whole point.

So I didn’t even consider submitting to the journal that prohibited rhyming poetry.  Rhyme and rhythm are as important to poetry as are free verse, deconstruction, or any other style persons prefer.  But today, rhyme isn’t a convention–perhaps the opposite.  And a poem must prove its use of rhyme.

KNOWLEDGE, APPRECIATION, AND ENJOYMENT

I enjoy reading Shakespeare when I’m moved to

Richard III is thrilling

When I don’t have to study it for a course:

Memorize plot, character, Act and scene

Nietzsche on Greek Tragedy is enthralling

When I don’t have to place it in relation to

Zarathustra, Christian criticism, Ubermensch, herd

Education is a mixed blessing

A blessing, if it serves to enhance

Joy in culture’s works

Mixed if it serves merely to teach

Appreciation only, or worse, criticism

Still, without education, I wouldn’t read Shelley

And Shelley teach me to enjoy Shakespeare

Shelley and that Contentment Surpassing Wealth

Shelley makes reference to “that content surpassing wealth/The sage in meditation found,/And walked with inward glory crowned” (Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples).  The poet laments that he doesn’t have that content, but notices that, “Others I see whom these surround–/Smiling they live, and call life pleasure.”  It’s likely not my place to say whether I walk with inward glory, but I do number myself among those who have that content surpassing wealth.  That is, usually I have that content surpassing wealth.  Lately, I’ve been telling my acquaintances that I’m wealthy.  When they raise their eyebrows, I clarify by saying that I feel wealthy.  I have everything I want.  An outside observer, looking at my possessions, likely would wonder how I could feel that way.  My condo is small, I drive a 10-year-old Honda, my material possessions are few, my clothes are not expensive.  But the possessions I do have satisfy my wants superbly.  The contentment surpasses wealth probably because it depends on a certain attitude toward wealth.

 

When an individual isn’t concerned with wealth, then lacking it doesn’t sting.  Then there are the other things a person can concern oneself with that don’t cost much, but reward much.  A good paperback book doesn’t cost much.  And the satisfaction one receives from a good book contributes greatly to the contentment sages in meditation find.  A good book and reflection on it, is a sagely undertaking.  A Beethoven symphony can be downloaded for $9.99.  Time spent with a Beethoven symphony is a sagely undertaking.  Each piece of great art works on the soul, making the individual different after each encounter.  Art and knowledge form a person’s psyche.  A psyche who seeks an encounter with something spiritual, like a Turgenev novel, will find contentment.  My edition of Turgenev cost me $21.00, and will last me weeks, and then the lasting satisfaction my soul will enjoy after my encounter with it.  But a psyche who chases wealth, power, status, and fame will likely not find contentment.  They are all unquenchable cravings, and no matter how much of each one possesses, it will never be enough.

 

Lately, my spiritual seeking has been leading me into discontent.  I am planning to attend the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which is being held in Toronto this year.  Finding lodging I can afford, securing a flight, and negotiating the public transportation of a foreign city are all anxiety provoking, and a strain on my modest finances.  But having attended the previous one in Salt Lake City, I anticipate an ultimately rewarding and fulfilling experience in Toronto.  The temporary anxiety that goes into the achievement of this spiritual goal will be rewarded with a lasting spiritual formation in my soul, during and after the event.  With my aspirations set on humanistic and spiritual acquisition, I expect to continue through my life, as I do now, according to Shelley’s words, “Smiling they live, and call life pleasure.”

Fame

Fame and success are not always meted out in a person’s lifetime.  Some great artist were relatively obscure in their own lives, and did not know that they would be important later, after their demise.  All they knew was that their work didn’t catch on.  And they were unknown–and that, for their whole lives.  They didn’t make it.

William Blake was known to some of the Romantic poets, but achieved no real fame.  Shelley wrote these verses about his own life,

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,

Nor peace within nor calm around,

Nor that content surpassing wealth

The sage in meditation found,

And walked with inward glory crowned—

Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.

Others I see whom these surround—

Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;

To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

F. Scott Fitzgerald had fame and money, but failed to find critical acceptance as an artist.  His greatest novel, The Great Gatsby, didn’t sell much and went out of print in a few years.  Fitzgerald died thinking himself a failure.

Now we study Blake, Shelley, and Fitzgerald in literature classes, and all these writers are considered great.  Every high school student in the United States reads The Great Gatsby.

Hemingway and T.S. Eliot had fame all through their lives, and the respect of the artistic community.  Hemingway also had wealth.  Intellectual fashion is now debating whether they are still as great as they used to be, but I suspect the laurel wreath will not be taken away in the end.

But Shelley and Fitzgerald had respect among the community of artists in their day.  Coleridge and Wordsworth knew and respected Shelley.  And Hemingway was Fitzgerald’s close friend.  Even in Hemingway’s scathing stories about Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway praises Fitzgerald as a great artist.

Fame may not be the best measure of a person’s worth.  Respect from one’s peers, self-respect, believing in oneself, and the joy of creation alone are not fame, but are abiding satisfactions in lieu of fame.  While an artist wants recognition, it is satisfying to enjoy one’s own creations privately, while perhaps also enjoying favorable reception from a few who matter.