Madrid on Chinese “Rhyme Spoilage”

Anthony Madrid (writing for the Paris Review) doesn’t like half-rhymes, slant-rhymes, or eye-rhymes:

Everybody who cares anything for old poetry in English knows how it feels—knows how awful it feels—when a poem is rhyming away and then suddenly the rhyme goes off the rails for a second because English pronunciation has changed since the time the poem was written.


What does all this have to do with Chinese? Well, if you don’t already know, you could easily guess that the Chinese language—with all its dialects, creoles, sister languages, and God knows what all—has changed a great deal in the last, oh, three thousand years.

He then launches into a discussion on what he calls “rhyme spoilage.” But what he finds interesting is that

I can also see how different from modern Mandarin the various words were in 1000 B.C.E.  … Yet—and this is the crazy part—they still rhyme in their new forms. This can only be because all the vowels and the consonants shifted together and consistently, like with the Great Vowel Shift in the Indo-European languages. Or that other thing where all the p’s in Latin show up as f’s in English (pater/father, et cetera).


Would it be right to say that a lot of old Chinese poetry has pretty much gone from being perfectly rhymed Robert Frost poems to being weirdly rhymed Emily Dickinson poems?

He wants your answers:

Right now there are people reading these very words who know—who truly know—the answers to these questions. So I’m going to go ahead and announce a very exciting conference that is to be held in my gmail inbox. We are looking for papers that would speak to the two questions, above.

Click the image above to read his full post with Madrid’s email to write him with your own expertise and opinions.