The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Rhyming Recreations

by James Ashcroft Noble
Volume 1, 1890, pg. 750

The question "How shall we amuse ourselves?" is often rather a difficult one to answer, especially among a party of clever and well-educated young people who, perhaps not without reason, consider ordinary games a little beneath their dignity; and the object of this article is to describe several literary recreations which may while away an evening very pleasantly, and call various intellectual powers into exercise at the same time. One of the simplest of these is the old game of "capping verses," which may be played in various ways, of which the following is perhaps the liveliest. Let each player have so many counters given to him at the beginning of the game: half-a-dozen will be enough in any case, and too many if the players are numerous. Then let the first player, whom we will call A, recite any stanza which occurs to him, such, for example, as this:--

John Gilpin was a citizen
Of credit and renown,
A train-band captain eke was he
Of famous London town.

It will be seen that this verse ends with the letter "n," and the task of B, the second player, is to recite another verse or couplet beginning with this letter. A certain fixed time--say a quarter or half a minute--must be allowed for thought; and if, at its expiration, he fails in his task, he forfeits a counter, and again begins the game, of which the holder of the last counter is of course the winner. If there are many players, the counters may be dispensed with, the penalty of a single failure being retirement from the game. Capping verses is, however, simply an exercise of memory, and can hardly be called a rhyming recreation. There is, perhaps, more real entertainment in the manufacture of mosaic poetry, which may be made very interesting, as it needs not only memory, but some amount of literary aptitude; for a mosaic poem is a composition, each line of which is taken from a different work, the whole being so arranged that rhyme and rhythm are preserved, and sense sacrificed as little as possible. The following mosaic verse, though not by any means perfect, will serve as an illustration:--

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day
In every clime from Lapland to Japan:
To fix one spark of beauty's heavenly ray,
The proper study of mankind is man.

The difficulty, under certain conditions such as these, of writing what shall be good sense, will be readily admitted; but only those who have had experience will allow that the task of writing really good nonsense is a much harder one; so much harder, indeed, that none but persons who have acquired real literary facility are likely to succeed in it. Such readers may find a good deal of amusement in competing in the composition of verse which might, when carefully read or listened to, be mistaken for sense, but which shall nevertheless be absolutely without meaning. Of this kind of poetry, which will be found very fascinating by those to whom difficulties are attractive rather than repellent, I also give an example, and it is a particularly good one. It is a burlesque upon the sonnets of Mr. Boker, an American poet, which I find in that clever little book, "The Diversions of the Echo Club":--

I charge not with degrees of excellence
The fair revolt which rested on thy name,
Nor burden with uncomprehended blame
The speech, which still eludes my swooning sense,
Though this poor rhyme at least were some defence
Against thy chill suspicion; yet, if fame
Lift up and burnish what is now my shame,
'Twould mitigate a passion so intense.
This trampled verse awhile my heart relieves
From stringent pain that cleft me as I turned
Away from beauty graciously displayed:
And still one dominant emotion cleaves
The clouds whereon thy passing lustre burned,
And leaves behind it gulfs of blacker shade.

It will of course be some time before beginners achieve anything so clever as this; but if at first they don't succeed they can try, try, try again. In the specimen given it will be seen that all the phrases, with perhaps the solitary exception of "trampled verse," are sensible enough; and the art is shown in so stringing them together that the entire want of coherence can only be discovered by careful reading.

A less elaborate recreation is for one person to write a line for which another has to find a rhyming companion, or to suggest a couple of rhymes which must be introduced into a single verse. Some very familiar words --"orange" and "month," for example have no rhymes, and must therefore be declared inadmissible; while others, not quite impracticable, are sufficiently puzzling to give considerable scope for ingenuity. It was in answer to a challenge to find rhymes for the awkward-looking words "cassowary" and "Timbuctoo" that Sydney Smith produced the well-known humorous stanza:--

If I were a cassowary
On the plains of Timbuctoo,
I would eat a missionary,
Skin, and bones, and hymn-book too.

Devotees of this form of literary sport will do well to study the "Ingoldsby Legends," which are full of rhyming triumphs; and of ingenuous double rhymes, where two words are used as a rhyme to a dissyllable, Mr. Browning is a master.

An exciting competition will often be the result of an attempt to write a poem with a single rhyme. Should the word "day" be fixed upon, all the lines must end with a word of similar sound--gray, ray, lay, pray, may, hay, and so on--the palm being awarded to the author of the poem which combines, in the highest degree, length, sense, and literary skill. The two latter qualifications are important, for, if they be disregarded, nothing can be easier than the indefinite prolongation of this single rhyme verse.

With poetical acrostics all readers are of course familiar, and they are by no means difficult to produce, but the original form can be ingeniously varied, as in the following acrostic by Edgar Allan Poe, where the name must be discovered by taking the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second line, and so through the poem to the end.

For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
Brightly expressive as the twins of Leda,
Shall find her own sweet name, that nestling lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly the lines!--they hold a treasure
Divine--a talisman--an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure--
The words--the syllables. Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose your labour!
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a sabre,
If one could merely comprehend the plot.
Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering
Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus,
Three eloquent words, oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets by poets--as the name is a poet's too.
Its letters, although naturally lying
Like the knight Pinto--Mendez Ferdinando--
Still form a synonym for Truth--cease trying!
You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you can do.

Few readers of this article will hope to rival Poe, but if a short name of four or six letters is taken, the performance is not so difficult as it looks. It will be most interesting to select the name of some eminent person, and to endeavour to give the little poem something of a descriptive or critical character. Here, for example, is a short exercise of this kind, which was produced in a few minutes by a writer of my acquaintance, to whom the task was entirely novel. It is a good specimen of beginner's work, for it will be seen that it is both a hidden acrostic and a criticism:--

Great master of the solemn elegy
Art thou. Thine is a sweet and soothing song:
Leaving the world behind, we fly with thee
Away from madding crowd and bustling throng.

Another amusing rhyming recreation is to take any well-known line of poetry, which every player must introduce into an original verse, the palm being awarded to the competitor who incorporates the original with the borrowed material in the most natural and graceful manner. Supposing that the line is chosen from Tennyson, "Kind hearts are more than coronets," the following stanza would fulfil the conditions of the competition:--

Away with empty vain regrets,
That you were born of lowly race;
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And lofty deeds than lofty place.

But it is unnecessary to give any further examples of these recreations, for endless varieties will occur to any reader of fair inventive faculty.

Typed by cobweb, Sept 2017