A Rhyme for the Time.
Title:A Rhyme for the Time
‘A Rhyme for the Time’ written by Willife Cunliam, is a 24-lined poem, that looks towards a brighter future for those affected by the Cotton Famine. The dialect used in the poem points to north-west England’s working/lower class, who at the time were particularly impacted negatively by the economic fallout. This is seen through the colloquialisms used by the speaker such as “oft downward tends ;—” and “No good fortune e’er attends”. The purposeful use of shortened phrases could suggest Cunliam was attempting to speak directly to an audience that could recognise this language, and therefore relate to the content of the poem. Moreover, the poem’s register is arguably a dichotomy between hope and disillusionment. In lines 6-8, it states:
“Sweet and bitter with life blends ; /
Grief makes joy the sweeter, friends : /
Evils good returning !”.
The rhyming couplet appears as a positive affirmation, through the juxtaposition of a “sweet and bitter” life which allows “joy [to be] sweeter”. However, the disjointed line that follows in “Evils good returning !”, shifts the tone from positive to slightly more sinister. Here, it could be argued that although the poem seems hopeful, a sense of inevitable destruction underpins the poem. The use of punctuation is paramount to the way the poem is read: Cunliam manipulates semi colons and em dash’s in many lines, often combining the two together. The semi colon is used in replace of a comma for a longer pause, however it does not carry the same weight as a full stop/period. Whereas, an em dash is used in place of a comma or brackets to isolate a final thought of a sentence, which often acts as a strong ending. The use of both creates a staccato and punchy end to a sentence as seen in the first line of the poem: “Times are very hard, my friends;—”; this immediately sets up a jutted rhythm. Unlike a caesura, the combination of the semi colon and em dash allows the reader to linger, but not too long. This use of punctuation could be suggested as the speaker attempting to enforce these strong statements, without making the speaker dwell on the statement for too long. This arguably supports the idea of the poem constantly looking to the future for hope, therefore not creating a long enough pause to allow the reader to linger in the present or past.
G. N. University of Exeter