Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, November 12, 2006

"Not a poet in an age worth crowning. All good poetry . . . flown." So say some readers about modern poetry, and so, too, says Ben Jonson (1572-1637) about his own time, in his poem "A Fit of Rime Against Rime." Jonson blames rhyme, that vulgar invention that has ruined true poetry. The ancient Greeks and Romans, as he points out, did not use rhyme, except for a rare comic effect of deliberate, silly jangling. (Milton in "Paradise Lost," like Shakespeare in his tragedies, chose unrhymed verse.) Jonson calls rhyme "lazy thou" -- and relishing the paradox, he denounces the despised device in rhyming lines:


Rime the rack of finest wits,

That expresseth but by fits,

True Conceipt.

Spoyling Senses of their Treasure,

Cosening Judgement with a measure,

But false weight.

Wresting words, from their true calling;

Propping Verse, for feare of falling

To the ground.

Joynting Syllabes, drowning Letters,

Fastning Vowells, as with fetters

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