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Rhyme with a Reason

August 17, 2013

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 – 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, when I woke very early the other morning, and looked out at a red sky, I couldn’t change the weather. Yes, it was soon raining.


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.

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