Poetry should rhyme!

This page offers a few sonnets prompted by the opinion of Professor Andrew Motion, given at the TUC conference on 14th September 1999, that anyone who writes rhyming verse “needs to modernize”.

See also On writing sonnets.

The first stanza here is a Petrarchan Sonnet (rhyme scheme ABBA-ABBA-CDE-CDE).

The next one follows the rhyme scheme (ABAB-CDCD-EFEF-GG) of the classic Shakespearean sonnet; thereafter, additional stanzas, which develop the argument a little further, do not...

I think good poetry should always rhyme,
And like best poems that correctly scan;
But how can any versifying man
Write ought but rubbish, unless given time,
While still a boy, to try it? I know I’m
Not great at verse, but think at least I can
Turn out a few lines that are no worse than
A lot — that’s printed, though not worth a dime.
How many boys admit they like to dance?
I never did,* don’t now, and never watch
Ballet or dance routines from modern shows.
But now and then, if given half a chance,
A Billy Elliott comes, that scorn can’t scotch.
So too must poets appear sometimes. Who knows?

So! Our new Poet Laureate disdains
As out of date the crafted, rhyming ode!
Professor, you should have no lack of brains;
But to imply it is not à la mode
To use the skill of Coleridge or Keats,
To craft a stanza that both scans and rhymes,
Is to show less skill than the modern cheats
Whose work does neither, in these lazy times!
Great art should never be the slave of fashion;
And yet, too often, that is what we find.
Metre and assonance enhance the passion
Engendered, while they satisfy the mind;
If modern poetry must be free verse,
And spineless, I can think of nothing worse!

This claim that any rhyming verse is dated
And that the only serious verse is “free”
Is like the sixties fad for over-rated
Atonal music at the BBC:
The Radio 3 elite barred tonal moderns
And anything that had a decent tune —
Which ordinary people couldn’t fathom
Any more than they could fly to the moon.
I don’t deny the atonal has merit,
But they should give the diatonic its due.
Our children and grandchildren must inherit
All that is good, not just the chosen few.
Some of those lost composers have been found
And share the limelight in the world of sound.

The same thing happened in the world of art:
For decades, “recognizable” meant “bad”,
And “weird” or “obscure”, “good”! Well, for my part,
I often think the critics have been “had”.
My memory of most such stuff is hazy
But take just one instance, the Turner prize:
Some of the works shortlisted are quite crazy
And yet these are most valued in their eyes.
The Royal Academy summer exhibition
Is now the only famous art event
Where any work can still reflect tradition,
And cash on pleasant new works can be spent!
Though fashions of the past are seen as wrong,
Great work will last — in form, in word, in song!

* Actually I did dance once: I was in the men’s chorus in a production of Hello Dolly at Richmond Theatre (on the Green), around 1975, and was a singing waiter in the restaurant in the title number; and yes, we danced a bit. See this page.

© 1999..2011 Ian P. Hudson
Headley, Hampshire