Why do We Write?


I have a confession to make. I love reading poetry, but when I hear it read aloud I am filled with embarrassment, so much so that I squirm and suffer until the reading is over.It is nothing to do with the reader - it is just me. Why should this be, I wonder. Shakespeare’s plays don’t affect me this way, but almost everything else does. Perhaps someone can explain this.I try to write a little poetry myself and dread anyone reading it in my presence because of the embarrassment factor.Now that is off my chest, I would like to talk about modern rhyming poetry.In my view, this is considered far too often as the poor relation of free verse ‘real’ poetry.  So many of the most highly commended and prize-winning modern poems are to me more like prose, arranged as poetry.Poets in earlier generations contrived to produce great poems, which rhymed and scanned. Why not now? However, there were exceptions, as in the case of the Scottish poet, William McGonagall. An example of his style??   (see below) might be enough to give someone an aversion to rhymes, or even poetry altogether!

Title: McGonagall Owner: Star Cat

“An Excursion Steamer Sunk in the Tay byWilliam Topaz McGonagallAnd they left the Craig Pier at half-past two o’clock Never thinking they would meet with an accidental shock”

As far as I can ascertain, rhymes are now, in the main, reserved for humorous verse and children’s poetry. Alliteration and onomatopoeia are not neglected in the same way as is rhyming, and yet good rhymes do at the very least make a verse much easier to recall. A well-constructed poem with shape and form provides a certain satisfaction not always found in free verse.

Title: Robert Burns, Man's inhumanity to man quote Owner: SubtropicBob

Poets who write in a natural voice are not restricted by a rhyming mode. Robert Burns wrote some of his most powerful poetry in natural voice, and rhyming verse.These thoughts on poetry are personal impressions only  - perhaps some readers may be of the same mind.


Do you remember any of the nursery rhymes you heard when you were little? I know I do, and recently I have been looking again at some of them and discovering a few reasons why they stay so long in my memory. Partly, I expect, it is because our minds, as children, are so receptive, and like sponges, absorb ideas and impressions so well. But the rhymes themselves when looked at again in later years, have a lot to offer, such as:* Vivid imagery and imagination* Rhymes to aid memory* Rhythm* Memorable characters* Story tellingAll these elements combine, in some nursery rhymes to produce very interesting poetry. The words may be simple, but the overall effect can give pleasure, touch the emotions, or even in some rhymes produce an atmosphere of tension or threat. Here I am thinking in particular of two which affected me deeply as a child and which I still find quite disturbing. 'Oranges and Lemons' in its final lines about the candle to light you to bed, and the chopper to chop off your head refers to the unhappy fate of felons in London's gaols many years ago. The other rhyme, 'A man of words and not of deeds' builds to a rather gruesome climax, but somehow it is one of my favourites.There are rhymes which are progressive, adding one layer on another. In 'The House that Jack Built' it is necessary to remember the preceding lines as one progresses through the verses. This rhyme has a particularly interesting rhythm and cast of characters.

Title: Jack Built This Owner: dhcomet 

There are rhymes too built around specific characters, 'Little Miss Muffet', 'Little Boy Blue', 'Jack Sprat' and 'Little Jack Horner', where the giving of names fixes the verse more firmly in the mind.For a compact, economical rhyme it is hard to beat 'Solomon Grundy', whose entire lifetime is summed up in a few lines. This is in contrast to 'There was a Crooked Man' where the effect of the rhyme depends on the constant repetition of the word 'crooked'.I feel that nursery rhymes have an important part to play in opening and preparing young minds to appreciate more complicated poetry as adults. Quite apart from this virtue, they give a great deal of pleasure. Certainly, I found revisiting them a lot of fun.I hope that they will continue to flourish and that they will never go out of fashion.  


Alice Meynell was born on 11 October 1847 at Barnes, England. She was the younger daughter of Thomas and Christina Thompson. Her father was a widower with a son and daughter when he married Christina. He was educated privately and at Trinity College, Cambridge but had no need to pursue a career, thanks to an inheritance from his grandfather. The family travelled and lived a great deal in Europe and when Alice was 4 they moved to the Ligurian coast, moving house frequently. This country of vineyards and olive groves, bright sunshine and blue sea was the place where Alice and her sister felt most at home as children.Alice was an intelligent child, speaking both French and English at an early age. The two sisters were educated at home by their father, who was an enormous influence on Alice in particular. Life was bohemian and free and the children were included in many adult parties and expeditions. Alice read voraciously and at 9 or 10 was engrossed in the works of Dickens, Trollope and Charlotte Bronte and the poetry of Shakespeare, Keats, Tennyson and others.At this time Alice was drawn to writing poems of romance and did submit one for publication, which was rejected. However she continued writing romances and poems and seemed to recognise the urge within her to pass on her thoughts to others.When she was 17 the family settled for a time in the Isle of Wight. At this time she was confirmed and became a regular attender at church. She frequently felt a failure in herself of remaining a little apart from the world, even from her own family, though she loved them deeply. She wanted something more from life which religion might supply. She also felt strongly that as a woman she could not employ her intellect as usefully as she might. Fortunately she now started to create more poetry, though the poems of this period were rather morbid and melancholy.The family meanwhile had been moving house, as they so often did, and for a time Alice lived in London, where Ruskin showed an interest in her poetry. In 1868,while in Malvern with her mother, Alice became a Catholic. She felt the need for discipline and a way to shape and control her nature and this she found in the Catholic church and was from then on the basis for all her thinking and writing. She recognised the strengths and weaknesses of her writing and worked towards the economy of words and focused thought that became the hallmark of her later poetry.After another period in Italy the Thompson family returned to London. Alice sought criticism and advice from people like Allingham and Aubrey de Vere and in 1875 her first book of poems "Preludes", was published. A journalist, Wilfred Meynell, was so impressed by these poems that he wrote to Alice, they became close friends and in April 1877 they were married. Although they had 7 children Alice continued her writing and poetry throughout the remainder of her busy life.

Title: Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) par Napoleon Sarony (1882) Owner: Yvette Gauthier

Her work was much admired by writers such as de la Mare, Rossetti and Oscar Wilde. She had time, though, for her family and her many friends, including Coventry Patmore and Francis Thompson and was invited to carry out a lecture tour in the United States of America.Alice Meynell was a sincere and uncompromising writer, eloquent but disciplined and always produced quality rather than quantity. Her strong religious faith underpinned all her work. Although perhaps not as popular nowadays, at one time she was mentioned as a possible Poet Laureate. She died in 1922 and her final work, "Last Poem" was published in 1923.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>