I expect that I am going to get pilloried for this, by the four people who read this blog (hello mum!), but it is something that has been troubling me for years. The situation is this: several lessons spent exploring rhyme and rhythm is exciting, ground-breaking ways: borrowing drums from the music department to patter out a bit of dactylic tetrameter, or whatever; having students scurry around with letters to identify rhyme schemes; students marching around the room to iambic pentameter. All of this just to get the basic premise in their head.
You then spend time applying it – identifying what effect the various schemes have. And this is where it all goes wrong. You tell them that iambic pentameter was used by Shakespeare as it is the closest approximation to normal speech patterns. You tell them that it echoes the sound of a heartbeat, which links with the tension in Romeo and Juliet. You tell them that the rhythm of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ was designed by Tennyson to echo the sound of horses’ hooves. And all the time, the part of your brain still devoted to your subject is screaming ‘but this is bullshit!’ at the top of its interior voice.
This over-teaching of rhyme and rhythm is totally unnecessary. By all means, make them aware of it – do the exciting, kinaesthetic lessons. Just don’t expect them to analyse these techniques convincingly, especially in your average group. To get them engaging with structure, focus on the order of events and key words at the beginning and end of lines. Caesura and enjambment can be analysed effectively by almost all students, so encourage that. Discourage slavish identification of rhyme schemes and rhythms, and any attempt to make a bland statement about their use. They won’t get any marks in the exam, but crucially, wouldn’t be of any use anywhere else either.
- · Rhythm and rhyme can be great fun to teach, but often pay back very little in return.
- · Even the brightest students tend to write obvious and fairly empty comments about them.
- · There are possible ways to engage them with structure:
o Narrative/event ordering
o Words in obviously prominent positions
o Caesura and enjambment
- · Probably time for a cup of tea and a biscuit.