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Rhyme and the Line Molly Peacock To the workshop dogmatists I ran around with, the line was only good for one thing—to be broken. All the emphasis was on the end. What about the middle? I began to paw over some of my favorite lines, looking for the secrets of their remarkably still sense of wholeness, yet their simultaneous ability to catapult the poem forward. Even simple lines—Howard Nemerov’s “People are putting up storm windows now” (56); Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “and rise and sink and rise and sink again” (659); or Shelley’s “Ozymandias” barking, “Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!” (375)—had a rhythmic and syntactic integrity that thrilled me. The weight of these lines was centered, not shifted precariously toward the end. What if some ideologue in a workshop had told Nemerov to break the line between “putting” and “up”? Or instructed Millay to break her line after the third “and”? Or tried to con Shelley into believing that the sentence should govern his flow—break it after the second comma! I abandoned the line-busters and went home with Paul Fussell’s Poetic Meter and Poetic Form. Later, I found myself at my grandparents’ breakfast table. I adored the way they spoke. My favorite word was “green,” which they pronounced with two syllables (gree-un); second was the astonishing two-syllable pronunciation of “film” (fil-um). Curiously, this brought me back to the ends of lines and to rhyme. I realized I could lock in the line with a rhyme, weighting the center with that end sound, even if I hid the sound behind some very ordinary phrase that would rhyme for me personally, if not for the rest of the world. For instance, the stuttering utterance, “Do I agree? Um, yes,” to my grandparent-trained ear off-rhymes with, “Are they green? Yes.” A loose rhyme scheme of conversational words, seemingly emphasizing the ends of lines, threw cargo into the middles, the way stevedores standing at the edges of ships’ decks throw goods into the Peacock | 177 holds. I marveled at how this helped the energy of a poem both backwards and forwards. If I could hide a rhyme scheme (as I hid my lust for formal verse), the poems would have the structure without the fancy ear veneer that would mark them as old-fashioned. But it wasn’t only rhyme that balanced the line. Next port: meter. works cited Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Love is not all.” Collected Poems. Ed. Norma Millay. New York: Harper, 1956. Nemerov, Howard. “Storm Windows.” Contemporary American Poetry. Ed. Donald Hall. Baltimore: Penguin, 1962. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “Ozymandias.” Selected Poetry and Prose of Shelley. Ed. Carlos Baker. New York: Modern Library, 1951. ...


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