A follow-up to yesterday’s post!
Here’s another student who thinks the absence of something can be found, that the “lack of” something can be “present.”
He was referring to Paradise Lost. Here’s the whole sentence:
“An example of how there is no rhyme scheme can be found anywhere, but a particularly interesting passage is lines 118-126 in Book Nine.”
He wants to point out a passage where the lack of rhyme is particularly interesting. That would imply, of course, that Milton clearly had an identifiable opportunity to rhyme, but resisted it—otherwise, how could my student discuss his interesting choice?
Here’s Milton. My student’s selection picks him up mid-sentence and drops him mid-sentence too:
“Rocks, dens, and caves; but I in none of these
Find place or refuge; and the more I see
Pleasures about me, so much more I feel
Torment within me, as from the hateful siege
Of contraries; all good to me becomes
Bane, and in Heav’n much worse would be my state.
But neither here seek I, no nor in Heav’n
To dwell, unless by mastering Heav’n’s Supreme:
Nor hope to be myself less miserable”
Now, can’t you just feel Milton not rhyming here? What does it show? What, in fact, would rhyming show? Another student, in another paper, pointed out the effective rhyming in a particular passage of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and there too I wondered why that particular passage had been chosen, since the entire poem is in the same rhyme scheme. His rhyme may be particularly deft there, or particularly funny; but the student can’t really use a single passage of a book-long poem to claim that there the writer made a choice, any more than my Milton sage can put a finger on nine lines of an epic and say “See? Here? Look at the dramatic effect of the choice not to rhyme!”
I have to reassure, or depress, you further by adding that this was the end of the discussion, not the beginning. In other words, my student did not go on to explain what was “particularly interesting” about this passage, either its lack of rhyme or its rhythm or its wording generally or even its substance. The quotation was meant to make the point, not illustrate it.
Students also have an unnerving tendency to pluck “passages” out of the middles of sentences without making any effort to provide a workable beginning or end for the reader’s sake. It’s fine not to quote a whole sentence; but the writer does have the obligation to complete a thought, even if by truncated paraphrase.
Ah well. If you want to curl up with a good book on a cloudy Saturday, pull Paradise Lost off your shelf and see if you can find anywhere in the poem a finer, or more interesting, example of a lack of rhyme.