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This review is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Tremble peter mcdonald, Sound Intentions: The Workings of Rhyme in Nineteenth-century Poetry (Oxford University Press) £55

Peter McDonald's excellent new book is, on one level, a 300-page hymn to the self-conscious beauty and innovations of William Wordsworth's 'Ode: Intimations of Immortality'. In his far-reaching arguments for the poem, McDonald develops a thesis about repetition, rhyme and intention, which might be said to take its bearings from Geoffrey Hill's essay 'Poetry as "Menace" and "Atonement"' and from two of its arguments in particular: the first, an aesthetic argument, is made against those who consider, in Hill's phrase, 'form and structure as instruments of repression and constraint'; and the second, an ethical argument, relates to Hill's faith that a poem's use of language may achieve mimesis as a kind of revelation, a faith which might be termed religious, especially in McDonald's reading of Hopkins. After its examination of the uses of rhyme and repetition in relation to Wordsworth, the book, daisychainlike, looks at how Wordsworth's innovations are developed by Keats, how Keats' and Wordsworth's innovations are re-framed by Tennyson and so on through Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins and a brief concluding reading of Swinburne, Barrett Browning and Hardy.

The book begins, though, with a tour de force survey of the Romantic arguments for and against rhyme, concluding of the creative act that 'it is not necessary to embark on […] speculative restaging of a finally unknowable series of acts in order to engage profitably with poetry's dimension of self-awareness. Rhyme and repetition, as formal elements with enormously varied specific consequences, mark points of intersection between the composing will and its linguistic medium.' ...


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