Researching rhyme and repetition has taken me far into early and mid-fourteenth-century poetry, the stuff that was in fashion before Langland, Gower and Chaucer remodelled poetics, what you might call ‘middle Middle English’. The Gawain-poet, often seen as the fourth member of the Ricardian gang, has many formal affiliations with the poetry of the 1330s, 1340s and 1350s. Here a hat tip is very much in order: I couldn’t have got to grips with this in the last few weeks without the scholarship of Thorlac Turville-Petre, Susanna Fein and Ad Putter.
My last post looked at Chaucer’s experiments with internal rhyme in Anelida’s Complaint. Though we think of it as an unfinished minor work, Anelida and Arcite survives in plenty of manuscripts and was printed by Caxton in 1477. Poets could thus easily borrow Chaucer’s technique of subdividing a pentameter into three units of 4, 4 and 2 syllables, with the first two units of four rhyming (i.e. ‘My swete foo, why do ye so, for shame?’).
This is the first of two or three posts on internal rhyme in later medieval English and Scottish verse. There is a small craze for internal rhyming in later Middle English and Middle Scots poetry. In the last few weeks (well, when not swamped by teaching and revision), I’ve been trying to untangle the various threads and traditions involved.
The repetition of sound (whether rhyme or alliteration) is part of what gives the language of Middle English poetry its musicality, the patterned artifice which signals that it is different from everyday speech. In rhyming verse, the rhyme at the end of each line (as well as the metrical pattern of the line) divides its language up into equal units. As well as marking the individual line, rhymes indicate greater divisions, whether these be pairs of lines linked together to form couplets (aabbcc), or larger patterns of quatrains (abab), tail-rhyme stanzas (aabaab), seven-line rhyme royal stanzas (ababbcc) or eight-line ballade stanzas (ababbcbc).