“Rhymes can make sense of the world in a way that regular speech can’t.” Hip hop mogul Jay-Z (Sean Carter) says it better than I can. It’s no coincidence that someone who built a career in rhymes argues so persuasively about the persuasive force of rhyme. “Think about it,” he writes in his memoir, Decoded . “O.J. Simpson might be a free man today because ‘glove don’t fit’ rhymed with ‘acquit,’” recalling defense attorney Johnnie Cochran’s famous couplet. “That’s the power of rhymes.” [i] Simpson’s ongoing legal problems hardly diminish Jay-Z’s claim: the sonic phenomenon of rhyme carries rhetorical force. As Cochran well knew. As did the Republicans urging Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president in 1952, hoping their slogan— i like ike —would convince the General and voters alike. And as the schoolyard bards who discovered that my surname rhymes perfectly with “mucus” also knew, all too well. Rhyme can convince the mind of what the ear already knows. We know that children improvise rhymes spontaneously as they explore and invent language. [ii] As we come into speech the sounds around us begin to make sense, and we begin to sound out our own versions of them. Recall the stubborn baby brother in A Christmas Story , rhyming over his dinner instead of eating it: “Meatloaf, smeatloaf, / Double-beatloaf. / I hate meatloaf.” [iii] So rhyme can make sense and make fun. It helps us remember and—as advertisers hope—keeps us from forgetting. Rhymes can be profound—“womb” / “tomb”—or silly—“If called by a panther, / Don’t anther” (Ogden Nash). [iv] So why, someone will ask, doesn’t poetry rhyme anymore? I never know how to anther—err—answer. I say that it still does, or that it never did. I say: some poetry rhymed, and some still does. Or I try to change the subject. Rhyme is a linguistic coincidence, an accident of corresponding vowel sounds and end consonants. That loveable accident has come into and fallen out of fashion several times in the thousand or so years of English-language poetry. The earliest Old English poems (think Beowulf , circa 700—1000 AD) use alliteration as a structuring principle. Rhyme emerges in English poetry only by the early 12th century, with the influence of Medieval Latin and French. [v] So you can thank the conquering Normans indirectly for Geoffrey Chaucer’s couplet: “Spek, sweete bryd, I noot not where thou art. / This Nicholas anon let fle a fart.” [vi] (Whether we can thank Chaucer for the wisdom that “whoever smelt it / dealt it” is another matter.) As we have seen, Shakespeare’s sonnets rhyme schematically, but his blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) sets the stage for hundreds more years of English dramatic and narrative poetry. Rhyme endured in songs and lyric poems, sneaking on stage every so often to close out a scene. By the time John Milton writes his prefatory note to the second edition of Paradise Lost (1674), he dismisses rhyme as “the invention of a barbarous age,” arguing that the “jingling sound of like endings” is a kind of “modern bondage.