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Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998

Towards an Aesthetics of Poetry

Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

[Modified from an essay written in 1993]

Subject: Towards and Aesthetics of Poetry

Topic: A Rhyme is Logic Sure Enough

With Scan as Reason Evident

To Overcome the Modern Guff.

Poetry is a unique form of literature. Unlike a novel -- which

has theme, plot, characterization, and style -- a poem has only

theme and style. This characteristic necessitates the

differences between poetry and prose.

In a novel, the theme is integrated by means of the characters

and their actions (plot). Since a poem has no such vehicles, it

needs some other means of integrating its abstract meaning. This

unifying aspect of poetry is accomplished by means of rhyme and

scan -- where rhyme is parallel to logic, and scan is parallel

to reasoning.

By "rhyme," I mean ending the lines in words that have the same

sound. This is not to discount other uses of rhyme, such as

internal rhymes. By "scan," I mean the lines have a predictable

pattern of tonal emphasis and rhythm.

Rhyme, when at its best, can be used to highlight a similarity

between two usually unrelated concretes. For instance, "nose"

and "rose" in common usage are not integrated with one another,

since their similarities are not readily evident. However,

consider these lines:

She had a pleasant upturned nose

Which blush reminds me of a rose.

Notice how the rhyme is used to concretize the beauty of a

woman's nose. One can readily picture in ones own mind the

gentle texture of the skin, its coloration, and even the

pleasure resulting from the use of that nose to smell a rose. By

ending the lines in this specific rhyme, and by choosing the

appropriate scanning words for the lines, the poet is able to

convey the exact attributes of the nose and the rose to

integrate ("blush" is the clue that the poet is talking about a

pink rose instead of a yellow or white rose).

Let's break the rhyme and see what happens:

She had a pleasant upturned nose

Which blush reminds me of a peach.

Though both "rose" and "peach" have romantic connotations,

"peach" doesn't work nearly as well as "rose." Since there is no

perceptual similarity between the sounds "nose" and "peach," the

non-rhyme breaks the desired integration of the two concretes.

A similar result would occur if the rhyme was still there, but

the two concretes were unrelated:

She had a pleasant upturned nose

Which blush reminds me of a hose.

*This* becomes complete and utter non-sense! "Nose" and "hose"

simply can not be integrated in this context, though the mind

wants to do so merely because of the rhyme (are they both long

and green -- or what?).

Scan is another poetic tool. Once the reader has heard the

first line, he expects the related lines to have a similar

cadence. If it does not, the poetic integration is not accomplished:

She had a pleasant upturned nose

Which blush reminds me of a Redoute rose.

Though this conveys the meaning of the first poem, there is

something missing -- the rhythm of the lines are not

sufficiently similar in sound to aid integration.

A temporary break in the rhyme and/or scan is used to integrate

additional information, by uniting the lines subsumed by the rhyme:

She had a pleasant upturned nose

With sculpted features shaped in flesh

Which blush reminds me of a rose.

If the cadence of the second line did not match the first or

third, the integration of the poem -- as a whole -- would be

much more difficult. However, an added rhyme coupled with

varying scan, such as used in limericks, can cure even that:

There once was a girl with a nose

Which blushed like a healthy young rose,

But when she did sneeze

It made such a breeze;

I'd rather convey it in prose.

Notice the first and second lines integrate quite well. The

change in cadence of the third and fourth lines indicates a

different integration is being presented. By adding the fifth

line, the whole poem becomes a unit.

The cadence of related lines uses rhythm as a basic structure.

Rhythm can be thought of as a type of rhyme, though the rhyme is

more abstract, since it encompasses the entire line. By

utilizing scan, a poet makes it easier for the reader to delimit

his attention to the specific focus intended by the artist. In

effect, it says, "Pay attention to these two (or more) lines for

these are similar in structure."

Modern nihilists who dismiss rhyme and scan are destroying the

mind as readily as their soul mates who disregard logic and

reason. In effect, rhyme is to logic as scan is to reasoning.

A poet uses non-contradictory identification when he makes use

of rhyme; and he uses proper methodology when he utilizes scan.

Rhyme is the more fundamental of the two, just as logic is

fundamental to reason. It is much easier (more perceptually

self-evident) to hear a similarity of sounds between two (or

more) words than it is to hear a similarity between two (or

more) lines.

In short, a poet uses the *perceptual* aspects of words to

accomplish integration.

Date: Tue, 17 Mar 1998 04:36:17 -0500 (EST)


Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

I think some definitions of "poetry" presented in this forum [HBL] are

too broad. Since words are a visual/auditory concrete

representing a concept, there is no getting around the fact that

*anything* spoken or written will have a certain auditory flow

to it. Great orators, such as Cicero and Lincoln, knew this

quite well and wrote beautiful speeches -- but it isn't poetry.

In the writing of my novel, I am aware of how the words sound,

and change them, when necessary, to make them flow according to

how I think the scene should be depicted to further concretize

the abstractions -- but it isn't poetry. Any written or spoken

work, if done correctly, will not ignore the auditory quality of

that which is written or spoken -- but this doesn't make it

poetry. The concept "poetry" must be more delimited, without

taking away anything from those works which don't fit into the

concept -- and I do think both rhyme *and* scan are the

defining characteristics of poetry, and it is those aspects

which make the integration possible.

In this regard, I do not place the "Iliad," the "Odyssey", the

"Aeneid," "Beowulf," the "Inferno," or "Paradise Lost" into the

concept "poetry." Rather, I consider this works to be "epic

verse." I am well aware that the dictionary says "verse" is a

part of poetry, and that "epic" is a type of poem, but I am

challenging these premises. Note that each of these is a

*story*, and it is the *story line* that integrates the whole,

not the meter or verse, which is poetic in *style*, to varying


And speaking of meter and verse, does anyone else have

difficulty reading the passage from "Paradise Lost" presented

earlier? The end of a line in any type of verse style has a

specific meaning -- there is supposed to be a brief pause. Yet,

if one pauses at the end of the line in that stanza, Milton

sounds like he's stuttering. Milton was against sensuality, and

that passage shows this quite clearly. Instead of illustrating

his view that rhyme and scan are not crucial to poetry, he

proves the exact opposite.

As to "free verse," it suffers the same fate. Pausing at the end

of a line makes the words sound choppy, at best. I am well aware

that some orators can read such works with meaning without

sounding choppy, but this doesn't make it poetry. What they do

is make the pauses significant in themselves, and one is

supposed to focus on the meaning of the line just spoken before

moving on to the next line. It is an auditory effect; but the

same effect can be had -- with punctuation marks in prose.

Since a poem relies most heavily on the perceptual aspects of

words, the best poems are usually short -- less than a few

pages, and that would be a long poem. To be able to achieve

integration with anything longer would require the addition of

some other integrating factor, such as characterization or plot

-- or something similar to these -- or even music, which was

used in the presentation of ancient epic verse.

It ought to be kept in mind that the novel (or the short story)

is a recent invention. The ancients didn't have it, and their

stories were generally presented orally, not in written form.

Having the stories in oral form meant the sound of the words

took on a more crucial role than they do in the novel -- which

is a type of prose. A metered verse is much easier to remember

than the same meaning done in prose, because if one is stuck on

a passage, one knows at least that the next line or passage has

an auditory association with what has just been spoken. When

reading and writing became more common place, writers were able

to break free of the restraints of verse -- and it is a

restraint, if you have ever tried to write poetry.

Again, I am not trying to take anything away from works that do

not use rhyme and scan, but do take the auditory components of

words into account.

I simply don't calls these poems.

Example of a poem I wrote that is one of my favorites: The Aether