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This review is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

POP ART POETICS Donald Wesling, The Chances of Rhyme: Device and Modernity (University of California Press) £7.75

In the one hundred and thirty nine pages of The Chances of Rhyme, Donald Wesling offers us the delights of a 'structuralist-historicist' approach to poetics. For his structural model, he takes rhyme as representative of device-'meter, metaphor, and other forms of equivalence'-in poetry. 1795, which he sees as the moment of the 'epistemological-prosodic break' into poetic modernity in Western culture, provides his historical orientation. From 1795, Wesling claims, poets start denying rhyme, denying the device and its theorization in rhetoric, and begin to seek the appearance of spontaneity; but the device, necessarily, remains essential to them.

To carry such a case, especially in so short a book, would require a quite remarkable combination of skills; Wesling does not seem to possess them. He is trying, all at once, to study rhyme, rewrite literary history, develop a poetics, and make many incidental comments. As a result, there is no sustained analysis on either the theoretical or textual level.

Rhyme certainly deserves serious investigation. It is, as Wesling points out, 'seen both as absolutely detachable from and absolutely the essence of poetry'. By making rhyme paradigmatic, however, Wesling is constantly able to slide off it into more general matters, and his comments on specific rhyme effects are often banal. For example, his only remark on W. S. Merwin's lines 'and the sun goes down/driving a stake/through the black heart of Andrew Jackson' is: 'A detestation of Jackson is carried by the mocking of his name by harsh ...


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