As a poet who works in form, I weary of seeing in critiques--either in on-line workshops or in published reviews--the complaint that a poem or phrase or line is "rhyme driven."
Of course rhyming poetry is rhyme driven. Rhyme is an engine of syntax. If rhyme is in the car I want her stepping on the gas, minding the wheel, eyes on the road, shifting the gears. I don't want her there as mere ornament, nattering on her cell phone, putting her mascara on while gaping in the rear-view mirror.
OK, OK. I know that when people say that, what they mean is that it is obvious the whole purpose of the line is to arrive at some obvious predestined chime, like the set-up of a punch line. Which is certainly putting the cart before the horse (to keep with the transportation metaphors...) But it seems to have become an immediate and unthinking response to lines that rhyme that are in any way out of the ordinary--particularly anything that has the slightest whiff of "inversion"--that is, out of "natural" English word order--which is often interpreted as the blandest, strictest of simple declarative sentences. If you're going to use something as dandified as rhyme, the suggestion seems to be, you had better have everything else as "normal" as possible. (Regarding form in American letters, there seems to be a huge "anxiety of competence" in both critics and poets--that an inversion is there because the poet couldn't rhyme it away rather than because it is there for some other purpose.)
Of course, let's admit it: rhyme is something of a special case in English. In inflected languages (where word endings change based on their grammatical usage) rhyme is going to be everywhere, a soft incessant chiming, almost hard to avoid. In English, rhyme pairs are scarce, but pair up widely across the parts of speech. A noun might rhyme with a participle, or a verb with a pronoun, or an adjective with a preposition. This provides some interesting possibilities.
Frost (about whom more shortly) has many interesting things to say about rhyme. For instance, that it is whole phrases rather than words that rhyme (individual rhyme pairs--say "death", "breath"--are not tired in and of themselves, if they come about in interesting ways). And he suggests we should be aware of trying to rhyme different parts of speech.
A rhyming poem that seems to clunk along is probably, among other things, rhyming a lot of nouns together (cat, mat, hat), which suggests a sameness of syntax across lines, similar sentence lengths, and a lack of enjambment.
I can tell something about the sophistication of the syntax of a rhyming poem almost just by looking at the end rhymes. If there are adverbs, prepositions, nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives in the mix, the syntax is probably moving sinuously and interestingly over the line. Which also suggests to me complexity of thought as well as execution. Rhyme should be driving the poem along, not stopping and waving at the end of every line, Look at me! No hands!
(Not to say I think rhymes should be seen and not heard, like good little Victorian children. I want to hear them singing each to each!)
Steve mentioned Longfellow's "Snow-flakes" in his snowstorm post. I've been thinking of this poem a lot lately--not that we have had any snow of course, but because it was sent out on a postcard from the Academy of American Poets and I've had it taped on the bathroom mirror. I shudder to think what would happen if it were presented in a workshop (Inversion--a big no-no! Wouldn't we rather say, "shaken out of the cloud folds of her garments"?) It begins:
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
It's thrillingly rhyme-driven. Like snowflakes driven on the wind.
A. E. (Alicia) Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia and has lived since 1999 in Athens, Greece. She has published three books of poetry, Archaic Smile (1999), which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax (2000); and Olives (2012). Her new verse translation of Lucretius (in rhyming fourteeners!), The Nature of Things,...