“An example of how there is no rhyme scheme can be found anywhere…”

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.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

5 responses to ““An example of how there is no rhyme scheme can be found anywhere…”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    Perhaps reading a piece aloud helps the reader solve some of the problems that reader has been experiencing, just trying to understand what the writer is getting at. But, what a gift, to have a teacher who can read with understanding, dramatic emphasis, and even–dare I say it?–beauty.
    I was a terrible teacher when I taught, too young, insensitive, preoccupied with my own graduate school drudgery. But I still remember a class I was teaching, kind of a great books thing, in which I read a passage from “Paradise Lost” aloud to my class. I had edited it for brevity and continuity (sorry) and then performed the hell out of it–Satan’s fall from heaven. Not only did my class listen hard, but afterwards several of my students came up to me in a state of shock: this was the first time they’d understood the words they had been wrestling with at home.
    And, lest I fill a whole book, let’s just pass a casual glance towards those actors who “do” Shakespeare without understanding what they’re saying. How much do their audiences walk away with? And, yet, when an actor has a reading that suddenly opens a passage for you that’s been a closed door for decades: sound the trumpets.

    • RAB

      I always tell my actors, “If YOU know what you mean, the AUDIENCE will know too.” That’s probably why so many people who have seen my various Shakespeares (and Shakespeare contemporaries) over the years have said to me afterwards, “This is the FIRST Shakespeare [or other] play I’ve ever understood all the way through!” They think it’s because we don’t come down heavy with the various British accents, but it’s really because we know what we’re saying.
      To me the tragedy is that being able to hear a text isn’t a universal aptitude by any means, and those who can’t hear it will necessarily have a harder time understanding it. Literature began, after all, as a listening experience, and only later became a reading (or as they used to say in the biz a few years ago, a “decoding”) experience. How can we bring back that first dimension?

  • yearstricken

    I wonder if it would be helpful to teach the text, practice reading it, and then have the students read out loud as their final assessment. It would certainly make clear whether or not the student understood the text. And if the students had to listen to unfamiliar texts being read out loud and write about or discuss them, it may help them develop their listening skills. Just thinking out loud.

    • RAB

      This sounds like a very constructive idea. I don’t know if there’s time in the syllabus to shoehorn it in, though, along with all the other extras that have now become essentials, like journals of various sorts and portfolio assignments and other “reflection” and “assessment” activities….

  • “The rhyme scheme is scattered throughout the poem.” « You Knew What I Meant

    […] Most of my students seem to think that writing is largely a matter of one word after the other, and they want to start with the first word and stagger ever forward. What happens in the course of writing, then, has a certain random, or at least ad hoc, quality, and they assume that’s the way it is for everyone. No surprise, then, to find them stating that “the themes of love and death are littered all over the work” or “an example of how there is no rhyme scheme can be found anywhere.“ […]

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