The Allowable Rhyme by H. P. Lovecraft

The Allowable Rhyme
By H. P. Lovecraft
“Sed ubi plura nitent in carmine, non ego paucis
Offendar maculis.”

Horace.

The poetical tendency of the present and of the preceding century has been divided in a manner singularly curious. One loud and conspicuous faction of bards, giving way to the corrupt influences of a decaying general culture, seems to have abandoned all the proprieties of versification and reason in its mad scramble after sensational novelty; whilst the other and quieter school, constituting a more logical evolution from the poesy of the Georgian period, demands an accuracy of rhyme and metre unknown even to the polished artists of the age of Pope.
     The rational contemporary disciple of the Nine, justly ignoring the dissonant shrieks of the radicals, is therefore confronted with a grave choice of technique. May he retain the liberties of imperfect or “allowable” rhyming which were enjoyed by his ancestors, or must he conform to the new ideals of perfection evolved during the past century? The writer of this article is frankly an archaist in verse. He has not scrupled to rhyme “toss’d” with “coast”, “come” with “Rome”, or “home” with “gloom” in his very latest published efforts, thereby proclaiming his maintenance of the old-fashioned poets as models; but sound modern criticism, proceeding from Mr. Rheinhart Kleiner and from other sources which must needs command respect, has impelled him here to rehearse the question for public benefit, and particularly to present his own side, attempting to justify his adherence to the style of two centuries ago.
     The earliest English attempts at rhyming probably included words whose agreement is so slight that it deserves the name of mere “assonance” rather than that of actual rhyme. Thus in the original ballad of “Chevy-Chase”, we encounter “King” and “within” supposedly rhymed, whilst in the similar “Battle of Otterbourne” we behold “long” rhymed with “down”, “ground” with “Agurstonne”, and “name” with “again”. In the ballad of “Sir Patrick Spense”, “morn” and “storm”, and “deep” and “feet” are rhymed. But the infelicities were obviously the result not of artistic negligence, but of plebeian ignorance, since the old ballads were undoubtedly the careless products of a peasant minstrelsy. In Chaucer, a poet of the Court, the allowable rhyme is but infrequently discovered, hence we may assume that the original ideal in English verse was the perfect rhyming sound.
     Spenser uses allowable rhymes, giving in one of his characteristic stanzas the three distinct sounds of “Lord”, “ador’d”, and “word”, all supposed to rhyme; but of his pronunciation we know little, and may justly guess that to the ears of his contemporaries the sounds were not conspicuously different. Ben Jonson’s employment of imperfect rhyming was much like Spenser’s; moderate, and partially to be excused on account of a chaotic pronunciation. The better poets of the Restoration were also sparing of allowable rhymes; Cowley, Waller, Marvell, and many others being quite regular in this respect.
     It was therefore upon a world unprepared that Samuel Butler burst forth with his immortal “Hudibras”, whose comical familiarity of diction is in grotesqueness surpassed only by its clever licentiousness of rhyming. Butler’s well-known double rhymes are of necessity forced and inexact, and in ordinary single rhymes he seems to have had no more regard for precision. “Vow’d” and “would”, “talisman” and “slain”, “restores” and “devours” are a few specimens selected at random.
     Close after Butler came John Oldham, a satirist whose force and brilliancy gained him universal praise, and whose enormous crudity both in rhyme and in metre was forgotten amidst the splendour of his attacks. Oldham was almost absolutely ungoverned by the demands of the ear, and perpetrated such atrocious rhymes as “heads” and “besides”, “devise” and “this”, “again” and “sin”, “tool” and “foul”, “end” and “design’d”, and even “prays” and “cause”.
     The glorious Dryden, refiner and purifier of English verse, did less for rhyme than he did for metre. Though nowhere attaining the extravagances of his friend Oldham, he lent the sanction of his great authority to rhymes which Dr. Johnson admits are “open to objection”. But one vast difference betwixt Dryden and his loose predecessors must be observed. Dryden had so far improved metrical cadence, that the final syllables of heroic couplets stood out in especial eminence, displaying and emphasising every possible similarity of sound; that is, lending to sounds in the first place approximately similar, the added similarity caused by the new prominence of their perfectly corresponding positions in their respective lines.
     It were needless to dwell upon the rhetorical polish of the age immediately succeeding Dryden’s. So far as English versification is concerned, Pope was the world, and all the world was Pope. Dryden had founded a new school of verse, but the development and ultimate perfection of this art remained for the sickly lad who before the age of twelve begged to be taken to Will’s Coffee-House, that he might obtain one personal view of the aged Dryden, his idol and model. Delicately attuned to the subtlest harmonies of poetical construction, Alexander Pope brought English prosody to its zenith, and still stands alone on the heights. Yet he, exquisite master of verse that he was, frowned not upon imperfect rhymes, provided they were set in faultless metre. Though most of his allowable rhymes are merely variations in the breadth and nature of vowel sounds, he in one instance departs far enough from rigid perfection to rhyme the words “vice” and “destroys”. Yet who can take offence? The unvarying ebb and flow of the refined metrical impulse conceals and condones all else.
     Every argument by which English blank verse or Spanish assonant verse is sustained, may with greater force be applied to the allowable rhyme. Metre is the real essential of poetical technique, and when two sounds of substantial resemblance are so placed that one follows the other in a certain measured relation, the normal ear cannot without cavilling find fault with a slight want of identity in the respective dominant vowels. The rhyming of a long vowel with a short one is common in all the Georgian poets, and when well recited cannot but be overlooked amidst the general flow of the verse; as, for instance, the following from Pope:

“But thinks, admitted to that equal SKY,
His faithful dog shall bear him COMPANY.”

Of like nature is the rhyming of actually different vowels whose sounds are, when pronounced in animated oration, by no means dissimilar. Out of verse, such words as “join” and “line” are quite unlike, but Pope well rhymes them when he writes:

“While expletives their feeble aid do JOIN,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull LINE.”

     It is the final consonantal sound in rhyming which can never vary. This, above all else, gives the desired similarity. Syllables which agree in vowels but not in final consonants are not rhymes at all, but simply assonants. Yet such is the inconsistent carelessness of the average modern writer, that he often uses these mere assonants to a greater extent than his fathers ever employed actually allowable rhymes. The writer, in his critical duties, has more than once been forced to point out the attempted rhyming of such words as “fame” and “lane”, “task” and “glass”, or “feels” and “yields”, and in view of these impossible combinations he cannot blame himself very seriously for rhyming “art” and “shot” in the March Conservative; for this pair of words have at least identical consonants at the end.
     That allowable rhymes have real advantages of a positive sort is an opinion by no means lightly to be denied. The monotony of a long heroic poem may often be pleasantly relieved by judicious interruptions in the perfect succession of rhymes, just as the metre may sometimes be adorned with occasional triplets and Alexandrines. Another advantage is the greater latitude allowed for the expression of thought. How numerous are the writers who, from restriction to perfect rhyming, are frequently compelled to abandon a neat epigram or brilliant antithesis, which allowable rhyme would easily permit, or else to introduce a dull expletive merely to supply a desired rhyme!
     But a return to historical considerations shews us only too clearly the logical trend of taste, and the reason Mr. Kleiner’s demand for absolute perfection is no idle cry. In Oliver Goldsmith there arose one who, though retaining the familiar classical diction of Pope, yet advanced further still toward what he deemed ideal polish by virtually abandoning the allowable rhyme. In unvaried exactitude run the couplets of “The Traveller” and of “The Deserted Village”, and none can deny to them a certain urbanity which pleases the critical ear. With but little less precision are moulded the simple rhymes of Cowper, whilst the pompous Erasmus Darwin likewise shews more attention to identity of sound than do the Queen Anne bards. Gifford’s translations of Juvenal and Persius shew to an almost equal degree the tendency of the age, and Campbell, Crabbe, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, and Thomas Moore are all inclined to refrain from the liberties practiced by those of former times. To deny the importance of such a widespread change of technique is fruitless, for its existence argues for its naturalness. The best critics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries demand perfect rhyming, and no aspirant for fame can afford to depart from a standard so universal. It is evidently the true goal of the English, as well as of the French bard; the goal from which we were but temporarily deflected during the preceding age.
     But exceptions should and must be made in the case of a few who have somehow absorbed the atmosphere of other days, and who long in their hearts for the stately sound of the old classic cadences. Well may their predilection for imperfect rhyming be discouraged to a limited extent, but to chain them wholly to modern rules would be barbarous. Every individual mind demands a certain freedom of expression, and the man who cannot express himself satisfactorily without the stimulation derived from the spirited mode of two centuries ago should certainly be permitted to follow without undue restraint a practice at once so harmless, so free from essential error, and so sanctioned by precedent, as that of employing in his poetical compositions the smooth and inoffensive allowable rhyme.


Lovecraft remained pretty unknown during his lifetime but now his short stories, novels and poems are known to many.

Lovecraft was born in his family home on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the only child of Winfield Scott Lovecraft (1853–1898) and Sarah Susan (Susie) Phillips Lovecraft (1857–1921). Though his employment is hard to discern, Lovecraft’s future wife, Sonia Greene, stated that Winfield was employed by Gorham Manufacturing Company as a traveling salesman. Susie’s family was of substantial means at the time of their marriage; her father, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, being involved in many significant business ventures. In April 1893, after a psychotic episode in a Chicago hotel, Winfield was committed to Butler Hospital in Providence… After his father’s hospitalization, Lovecraft resided in the family home with his mother, his maternal aunts Lillian and Annie, and his maternal grandparents Whipple and Robie. Lovecraft later recollected that after his father’s illness his mother was “permanently stricken with grief.” – Wikipedia

 

Born Howard Phillips Lovecraft
August 20, 1890
Providence, Rhode Island, US
Died March 15, 1937 (aged 46)
Providence, Rhode Island, US

5 Days of Oscar Wilde – 3: The Tomb of Keats

THE TOMB OF KEATS

(Irish Monthly, July 1877.)

As one enters Rome from the Via Ostiensis by the Porta San Paolo, the first object that meets the eye is a marble pyramid which stands close at hand on the left.

There are many Egyptian obelisks in Rome—tall, snakelike spires of red sandstone, mottled with strange writings, which remind us of the pillars of flame which led the children of Israel through the desert away from the land of the Pharaohs; but more wonderful than these to look upon is this gaunt, wedge-shaped pyramid standing here in this Italian city, unshattered amid the ruins and wrecks of time, looking older than the Eternal City itself, like terrible impassiveness turned to stone.  And so in the Middle Ages men supposed this to be the sepulchre of Remus, who was slain by his own brother at the founding of the city, so ancient and mysterious it appears; but we have now, perhaps unfortunately, more accurate information about it, and know that it is the tomb of one Caius Cestius, a Roman gentleman of small note, who died about 30 B.C.

Yet though we cannot care much for the dead man who lies in lonely state beneath it, and who is only known to the world through his sepulchre, still this pyramid will be ever dear to the eyes of all English-speaking people, because at evening its shadows fall on the tomb of one who walks with Spenser, and Shakespeare, and Byron, and Shelley, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the great procession of the sweet singers of England.

For at its foot there is a green, sunny slope, known as the Old Protestant Cemetery, and on this a common-looking grave, which bears the following inscription:

This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English poet, who on his deathbed, in the bitterness of his heart, desired these words to be engraven on his tombstone: HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER.  February 24, 1821.

And the name of the young English poet is John Keats.

Lord Houghton calls this cemetery ‘one of the most beautiful spots on which the eye and heart of man can rest,’ and Shelley speaks of it as making one ‘in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place’; and indeed when I saw the violets and the daisies and the poppies that overgrow the tomb, I remembered how the dead poet had once told his friend that he thought the ‘intensest pleasure he had received in life was in watching the growth of flowers,’ and how another time, after lying a while quite still, he murmured in some strange prescience of early death, ‘I feel the flowers growing over me.’

But this time-worn stone and these wildflowers are but poor memorials {3} of one so great as Keats; most of all, too, in this city of Rome, which pays such honour to her dead; where popes, and emperors, and saints, and cardinals lie hidden in ‘porphyry wombs,’ or couched in baths of jasper and chalcedony and malachite, ablaze with precious stones and metals, and tended with continual service.  For very noble is the site, and worthy of a noble monument; behind looms the grey pyramid, symbol of the world’s age, and filled with memories of the sphinx, and the lotus leaf, and the glories of old Nile; in front is the Monte Testaccio, built, it is said, with the broken fragments of the vessels in which all the nations of the East and the West brought their tribute to Rome; and a little distance off, along the slope of the hill under the Aurelian wall, some tall gaunt cypresses rise, like burnt-out funeral torches, to mark the spot where Shelley’s heart (that ‘heart of hearts’!) lies in the earth; and, above all, the soil on which we tread is very Rome!

As I stood beside the mean grave of this divine boy, I thought of him as of a Priest of Beauty slain before his time; and the vision of Guido’s St. Sebastian came before my eyes as I saw him at Genoa, a lovely brown boy, with crisp, clustering hair and red lips, bound by his evil enemies to a tree, and though pierced by arrows, raising his eyes with divine, impassioned gaze towards the Eternal Beauty of the opening heavens.  And thus my thoughts shaped themselves to rhyme:

HEU MISERANDE PUER

Rid of the world’s injustice and its pain,
He rests at last beneath God’s veil of blue;
Taken from life while life and love were new
The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
Fair as Sebastian and as foully slain.
No cypress shades his grave, nor funeral yew,
But red-lipped daisies, violets drenched with dew,
And sleepy poppies, catch the evening rain.

O proudest heart that broke for misery!
O saddest poet that the world hath seen!
O sweetest singer of the English land!
Thy name was writ in water on the sand,
But our tears shall keep thy memory green,
And make it flourish like a Basil-tree.

Borne, 1877.


keats-deathbed

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

John Keats was a poet.

He inspired the film, Arterial.

Known for Endymion (1818), The Eve of St. Agnes (1800), and many more.