Wednesday, July 13, 2005

For Rhyme Geeks Only

The Wikipedia entry for "rhyme" is very good, especially in its explanation of the complicated rules of rhyme in French poetry. Though the article is correct in saying that these rules are from "classical" French poetry, they continued to be used well into the twentieth century; one of the most famous French-Canadian songs of the last century, Gilles Vignault's Mon Pays, follows most of the rules of classical French rhyme, including the strict alternation of "masculine" and "feminine" rhymes.

Italian is another language that has some rather interesting rules of rhyming, including the rule that words with three-syllable endings do not have to rhyme, with the result that Italian opera librettos will often have, in place of rhyme, a series of unrhymed multi-syllable words, as in this bit of verse from Rossini's La Cenerentola (libretto by Jacopo Feretti), where the accented syllables never rhyme:

- Quella sta nella cenere;
Ha stracci sol per abiti.
-(Il vecchio guarda e dubita.)
-(Mi guarda, e par che palpiti.)
- Ma non facciam le statue.
Patisce l'individuo:
Andiamo presto in tavola.
Poi balleremo il Taice,
E quindi la bellissima...

I've also wondered why the Italian language has so many rhymes whereas Spanish, a similar language, has few rhymes and very little tradition of rhyming (though I'm sure there's an answer to this for one more familiar with the languages -- and with Latin -- than I am). And then of course, in Germany, there's Richard Wagner's doomed attempt to revive the medieval tradition of using alliteration instead of rhyme, leading to all the unintentionally funny alliterative lines in the Ring ("Haus und Herd behagt mir nicht, Donner und Froh, die denken an Dach und Fach, wollen sie frei'n...").

I told you this was for rhyme geeks only, so I'll stop there. I actually wrote a college thesis entirely about the sonic and dramatic effects of trick rhyme (it focused on Byron's Don Juan,, so there was a lot to work with, though I don't actually like the poem that much anymore), and I wanted to do another essay on the development of different rhyme schemes in the English language, but was -- fortunately? -- talked out of it.

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