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From “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath:

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses

In English poetry, a perfect rhyme has identical vowels but different onsets, like come and sum. An identical rhyme has identical vowel and onset, like come and become. Pairs of homonyms and homophones are identical rhymes but not perfect rhymes, and most people consider them inferior.

Holorime, where entire lines rhyme, is likewise stigmatized in English poetry:

For I scream
For ice cream

Most consider this a trifle at best, doggerel at worst.

This judgment makes some sense for the mere repetition of a word as “rhyme,” which may indicate a lack of creativity. However, that makes less sense to me for examples like the wordplay in holorime and in the Black Sabbath song. Furthermore, some other languages value identical rhyme, like rime riche in French poetry.

Did identical rhyme fall out of favor at some point, or was it never well-accepted to begin with? Was there any period where it was in fashion in England as in France? Is it considered low poetry for the same reasons that puns are considered low humor in English? Are there forms of English poetry or song where it's more highly regarded – perhaps in limerick or rap, which value wordplay?

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youtube.com/watch?v=gu5g86nhWK4 –  Jim May 12 '13 at 4:25
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Because they're boring, as are all repetitions but homozygous twins. Reading twin studies is fascinating. Having to repeat a word because the poet can't find or create even a slant rhyme suggests a poverty of imagination or a lack of interest. We expect more from good writers, even if it's unreasonable. –  user21497 May 12 '13 at 4:28
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It's not an obvious pun, merely using homophones that may have different meanings in this context. Clearly, the lyric compares generals & witches to show that they're both groups of evildoers. Witches have their black masses (rituals), but generals don't. There may be a mass of generals if enough of them gather together, but what's it called? A mass of cancer cells is called a tumor, a mass of generals, perhaps a rumor or an Uma (fringefoot lizards). Hitchcock's pun changed the stress & wasn't in a verse. Why shouldn't English be different? Different history => different values. –  user21497 May 12 '13 at 4:53
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"A pun is the lowest form of humor, but a poem is verse." Even limericks should have different words for rhymes to be considered 1st-class, but it's not always possible. Rhyme fell out of favor with high-class English-language poets in the 19th & 20th centuries. As did rigid forms like the sonnet etc. Now we have "found poems" & bastardizations of "stream of consciousness" squibs that purport to be poetry. Even spontaneous rappers try to avoid repeating the same word for a rhyme, if they can: it's tough. What's a poet's goal? What's a songwriter's? It's all about creativity & novelty. –  user21497 May 12 '13 at 5:32
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@BraddSzonye your premise that "English is different" is too strong. The exact same phenomenon exists in many languages I consider myself familar with, from German to Russian. And John Lawler's answer applies to them to the same extent it applies to English. If rime riche proves anything at all, then it's that French is the odd one out. –  RegDwigнt May 12 '13 at 15:08

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

This is a very deep question and I've wondered myself, often, why perfect rhymes sound so awful.
I don't have an answer (let alone the answer). All I have is some pieces.

Item: There is no doubt that such an effect exists, and is predictable and general.
It's similar to the priming that occurs with a ticking clock that jolts us when it stops.

Item: There is significant phonosemantic coherence among the 483 English rimes.
This can provide a semantic "rhyme" to match a phonological one in end rhyme.

Item: Rhyming poetry is a modern invention.
There is no known poetic tradition anywhere using end-rime before around 300 AD.

Item: Rhyming poetry reached its zenith in Medieval Latin religious and goliardic poetry,
leading directly to the rhymed Tuscan of Dante, and forgettable attempts at English rhymed epics.

Item: End-rhyme is significantly easier in a suffixal synthetic language, like Latin or Italian,
than in an uninflected analytic language, like English, as John Ciardi points out.


But that's just pieces. What they suggest to me is that there is a significant anticipation set up by a rhyme scheme, just like the anticipation of a clock's ticking that allows us to cancel it out automatically. Until it stops ticking and we're alerted by the unmet prediction. This has the same feel.

I suspect that the psychological effect of rhymed poetry is such that the pleasant effect is mediated by an expectation of a patterned phonological difference, which is not met by absolute phonological identity.

I also suspect that the difficulty of making rhymed poetry in English is a big part of the reason why it's fallen out of favor in official poetry. That, and the rise of popular music, which certainly has lots of uses for rhyme, but is not officially considered poetry, since a lot of people pay a lot of money for it.

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+1 Excellent pieces. The most compelling bit is that identical rhyme is conspicuous. Ciardi's essay shows how repetition can be brilliant, as in the finale of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” But when it's not brilliant – or at least fresh – conspicuous poetry sounds awkward. Dissonance is a better word than boredom for this kind of dissatisfaction, I think. –  Bradd Szonye May 12 '13 at 22:08
    
This is a fine answer, especially your penultimate paragraph. The insight is original and plausible. All praise aside, I balk at Rhyming poetry is a modern invention.... We have minimal evidence about poetic tradition, end-rimed or not, prior to 300 A.D. The Library at Alexandria was razed around then. We have some poetry and theater from the Roman Empire and Republic, Athens, but not much. –  Feral Oink May 13 '13 at 20:51
    
People like rhymes! Limerick... or haiku? My point isn't anti-elitist. My favorite poets are John Donne, Jonathon Edwards, Baudelaire and T.S. Eliot. All wrote end-riming poems (admittedly, using highly structured verse forms, which I am fond of). Maybe that proves nothing, other than that I like their work for the wrong, or simple-minded ;o) reasons. –  Feral Oink May 13 '13 at 20:53
    
I'm still curious about what makes identical rhyme good in some instances (like rime riche and “Stopping by Woods”), but this answer has satisfied my curiosity about what makes it inferior in most instances. –  Bradd Szonye May 13 '13 at 22:28
    
+1. Mostly because of your last phrase ;). But the rest of your analysis was good too. –  Ben Lee May 18 '13 at 0:22

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