An Essay on Rhyme

A sybaritic friend of mine
Says: "Life's too short to drink cheap wine."
Whilst on the whole I do not choose
To share his attitude to booze,
(He doubtless thinks me a vulgarian
For soaking up the red Bulgarian)
His words find echoes in my heart
When what's in question's lyric art.
See - frankly I don't have much time
For poets who can't manage rhyme,
Though it's been made clear recently
How very many don't agree.
On rec.arts.poems there's a spate
Of postings bubbling with hate
For words and lines whose endings chime.
To some folk rhyming is a crime.

Admirers of the rawly felt
Think any polish far too svelte.
They value passion more than mind,
Energy more than both, and find
More beauty in the sprays of chance
Than in a neatly formal dance.
"Oh cast" they say, "to outer shade
What is deliberately made!"
A rhyme is shocking evidence
That art is artful, a pretence.

And yet the action-painter's splash,
Exuberantly free and rash,
Is something poets cannot make
(Though many try - and fail - to fake).
Though paint can make a random stain,
Words have to travel through a brain.
No poem's likely to emerge
From letting rip an urge to splurge;
The emotion Wordsworth so respected
Must, for verse, be re-collected.
Craft is needed, and hard graft
To rise above the limply daft,
And proper verses cannot be
Achieved by  duff simplicity.
(Does anybody still believe
That William Blake was just naive?
Or that the glories he created
Were somehow  unsophisticated?)

So poets ought to love the tools
Through which they work, their lyric rules.
Yet I've some sympathy for those
Who quite sincerely, I suppose,
Have in silent horror crept
Away from rhyming that's inept,
From the preacher's feelgood vanities,
Or from greeting-card inanities.
Damp hymnodists afraid of night
Adore a rhyme that's tweely trite,
But good rhymes are not glib - they're tonic
Triste, ironic or Byronic
Crazy, neat, precisely vicious,
Surrealistic or delicious,
Can speak rich summer's harmony,
Or voice the darkness of the sea,
And can be harder to forget
Than Sandra Bullock in "The Net".
A rhyme can speak, a rhyme can sing,
Can fly or creep, or zing, or sting.
Rhymes can sparkle, and achieve
A vibrant sense of joie de vivre,
Or can be statuesque, immense,
Or else destabilised and  tense
(Two feisty words a rhyme has wed
May fight like Sylvia and Ted)
Good rhymes may spark fierce passions surging
Or set new shapes of thought emerging. 
They won't allow blasé so-whattery,
But, like some shard of ancient pottery,
Miraculously seem to cage
The ways and values of an age -
You think - "This tells me things that matter;
All the rest is merely chatter."

It's strange, though, when nice kids who've done
Creative Writing 101
Attempt an authenticity
By copying insanity,
By snarling out disordered verses,
Wild images, unmetric curses.
This raving like they're off their heads
Proves that at heart they're nice co-eds.
One hardly has the heart to say:
"Poetry works the other way.
Pope was bitter, Nerval nervy,
Coleridge drugged and Verlaine pervy.
Their existences were bleak
But each had an intense technique.
In formal verse a poet strives
To grab sense from disordered lives,
To steal back something from despair,
To make with passion and with care
A perfect something that redeems
The blasted body and lost dreams.

"This gift's reserved for very few -
Perhaps not me, perhaps not you,
But let us lesser mortals pay
Our tributes to the poet's way.
Let's love devices such as rhyme
That fight against forgetful time.
Let's love the art and love the craft
That serves our poets as a raft
On which from life's most shadowed coast
They bring the work we value most."

George Simmers

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