National Catholic Register

Commentary

Rhyme Time

BY Mark Shea

July 17-30, 2011 Issue | Posted 7/8/11 at 5:01 PM

 

Rat a tat tat!

Rum a tum tum!

Following the boy

With the little toy drum!


One of the pleasures of becoming the grandfather of Lucy the Cuteness is that you get an excuse to enjoy all those pleasures you remember from the remote years of your own childhood when the sky seemed bluer, the grass greener and water more silvery and musical than today.

For older people than me, 1962 was a time full of the normal alarums and hurly-burly of adulthood, what with Cuban missiles and tax arguments and space shots. But for me, 1962 is as remote and golden as the Third Age of Middle Earth, because I was 4.

Things are like that for Lucy right now. She’s not quite 2, and she’s surrounded by people who love her and love to help her flourish. And one of the ways she flourishes is verbally. Hoo boy, does she flourish verbally! It’s in the blood, of course.

Mommy and Daddy are both verbally gifted, and she is surrounded by wordplay all day long. So she started constructing very sophisticated sentences amazingly early. (Favorite story: On Good Friday, when she was barely past a year and a half, she looked up and saw our priest processing down the aisle with the cross. “Cross of Jesus! Cross of Jesus!” she cried. “Here it comes! Zoom!”)

Anyway, part of the fun of being “Gampa” is that she likes rhymes, so I get to enjoy them again under the guise of reading to her (people look at you funny if you walk down the street reciting Little Boy Blue by yourself).

Rhyming is a thing from the youth of the world. As soon as people were people, they delighted in rhymes. They rhymed sounds, and that’s where poetry came from. That’s counterintuitive since our Darwinian culture envisions man climbing up from the brute beast and only progressing from obsession with food and sex and grunting quite late, finally doing the graduate-level stuff about poetry and music at the end of his evolution.

But music, poetry, dance, art — all the highbrow stuff — seems to have appeared in the remotest childhood of the world, just as it did with you and me and Lucy. The earliest thing we know about man is that he liked to paint beautiful pictures (and was a very accomplished artist. The most primitive peoples have lives that center around song and dance. The earliest written records we have are poems like the Book of Job and the Epic of Gilgamesh.) Man did not grunt before he talked. He sang.

And he didn’t just rhyme sounds. He rhymed ideas. He noticed that the little fire he had built in his little shrine was like the big fires God had built in the sky. So when he tried to describe the sun and the moon, he called them “lights” because that’s what he had in his sanctuary (Genesis 1:16; Exodus 27:20). He made a connection between the light of the sun that searched out every nook and cranny of the world around him at high noon and the light of God’s law that illumined every dark place in his soul.

Then he wrote Psalm 19: The first half of the song celebrates God’s creature the sun, and the second half seamlessly moves to the praise of God’s illuminating word. Jewish poetry was particularly strong on rhyming ideas, which is why Jesus is so typically Jewish when he says things like “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

This was present in the early Church’s understanding that God the Son (who is the Idea or Word or Logos of God the Father) could also make history rhyme. Of which, more next time.

Mark Shea blogs at NCRegister.com.