Friday, 8 July 2011

Rhymes with a Reason

by Celia Warren

Why rhyme? (Apart from the fact that rhymes are pleasing to the ear, and it's always good to keep your ears happy!) Well, for years and years, people – not just poets, but lesser mortals, too – have used rhyme because it's memorable. It makes ditties easier to remember and repeat to others. Here are a few memory rhymes that, most likely, you already know. The first is a short-term weather forecast, by looking at the sky at sunset and sunrise; the second a long-term weather forecast, by observing which trees come into leaf first in the spring:

Red sky at night: shepherd's delight.
Red sky in the morning: shepherd's warning.

Oak before ash, in for a splash;
Ash before oak, in for a soak.

Then there are historical rhymes, that help keep significant dates in our heads:

Remember, remember the fifth November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
And I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

In fourteen hundred and ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

Sometimes people write witty ditties that comment on the politics of the day – what parliament does that affects our everyday lives or, often, our means of making a living – being able to put a roof over our heads, clothes on our back, and bread on the table (the three main things we actually need in life)! 

I was recently reminded of this ditty that summed up people's anger and frustration at no longer being able to let their livestock feed on 'common land' following a 17th century 'enclosures act'. Stealing was punishable by death or flogging (depending on whether you were a man or a woman, would you believe!), but the government could 'steal' from the poor quite legally:

They hang the man and flog the woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leave the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

Making up poems like this, to share the pain, may have made people feel better, even if it didn't change anything. Just as now, awake very early this morning, and looking out at a red sky, I can't change the weather. It just tells me that the TV weatherman got it right last night, when he said it would rain today.

Why not write a verse yourself to commemorate a special date in your family life, or to make a satirical point or comment on some aspect of life that annoys you? It may not change anything, but it's fun. And if it rhymes, you may remember it for the rest of your life.


  1. Today the gate fell off the fence -
    so now that fence just makes no sense.
    I didn't fix it, I just whinged
    that now we're both of us unhinged....

  2. Why does the sun beat down
    Instead of beating up
    Where do the saucers grow
    For all those buttercups

    Why would you eat your words
    How do you swallow pride
    What boat does a hedge row
    And why does a butter fly

  3. I am always amazed at how many nursery rhymes I can remember when I can't remember important things like where I put the cat. So! Perhaps I should write a poem to help!

    I put the cat,
    not on the mat,
    she's on the chair -

    A long time ago my husband made up a song about the Famous Five by Enid Blyton. We were on the way to see a play about them, and we were wondering just what the music would be like. We sang the song as we went. It was much better than the one they used in the show, and I've never forgotten it. In fact I can hear it now. It's driving me mad. I don't suppose you have any tips for forgetting do you, Celia?

    (Comment by Liz Brownlee)

  4. Learning rhymes certainly helps remember things like 'thirty days has September etc.'

    I wrote a rhyming poem for my son's christening recently. It was about how to cope with life! I framed it and he has it on his bedroom wall.