The best blog for scholarly discussion of poetry is The Era of Casual Fridays. Its attention to what John Hollander has called 'the minute particulars of particular poems and...the great particularities of particular poets' is forensic in breadth and detail. The blog's author, Mark Richardson, has made his reputation as a scholar and editor of Robert Frost, but Emerson, Dickinson, Melville, and Hardy also feature prominently in his canon.
Richardson's latest blogpost considers the use of rhyme in Byron's 'She Walks in Beauty' and three heavily anthologised poems of the Great War: Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est' (about which I have already had my say) and Sassoon's 'Base Details' and 'Blighters'. Directly or indirectly, Richardson's arguments about rhyme follow in the tradition of W. K. Wimsatt's classic essay (which you will probably need to access via a university network.) However, I like his distinction between 'conjunctive' and 'disjunctive' rhymes. Our brains seem ready to assume that words which rhyme also have semantic connections, which is why Byron's counter-intuitive rhyme 'Aristotle' / 'bottle' works to such comic effect. Richardson points out other disjunctive rhymes in Owen and Sassoon, such as the macaronic rhyme 'glory' / 'mori'. That is a complicated example, because in another sense the rhyme may be conjunctive after all: the paths of glory lead but to the grave. And maybe, just maybe, death is battle can be glorious, as most war literature through the ages has insisted.
Although Richardson focuses on full rhymes, a related issue concerns the conjunction or disjunction (harmony or disharmony, consonance or dissonance) of sounds in rhyme. When Owen rhymes 'escaped' with 'scooped', 'groined' with 'groaned', he is inventing what Edmund Blunden definitively termed 'pararhyme'. The exam-hall response to Owen's pararhymes---that they are a strategy for jarring and unsettling the reader---is no less true for being a truism. I suspect that a computer with a good ear would discover that war poetry has a disproportionate number of pararhymes, slant rhymes and off-rhymes of one sort or another.
One problem with pararhyme is that it can relax into predictability. In those poems where he pararhymes at all, Owen pararhymes consistently throughout. Keith Douglas, the grateful inheritor of Owen's experimentation, demonstrates how much can be achieved by using different kinds of rhyme unexpectedly.
Three weeks gone and the combatants gone
returning over the nightmare ground
we found the place again, and found
the soldier sprawling in the sun.
The frowning barrel of his gun
overshadowing. As we came on
that day, he hit my tank with one
like the entry of a demon.
Look. Here in the gunpit spoil
the dishonoured picture of his girl
who has put: Steffi. Vergissmeinnicht
in a copybook gothic script.
We see him almost with content,
abased, and seeming to have paid
and mocked at by his own equipment
that's hard and good when he's decayed.
But she would weep to see today
how on his skin the swart flies move;
the dust upon the paper eye
and the burst stomach like a cave.
For here the lover and killer are mingled
who had one body and one heart.
And death who had the soldier singled
has done the lover mortal hurt.
This is Owen's 'Strange Meeting' replayed for a more brutal and certainly less conciliatory scene, in which the only tears shed are those of a girlfriend who 'would weep to see' what she will, in fact, never see: pity and voyeuristic fantasy become inseparable. 'Look', commands the living soldier; he takes pleasure in wanting the reader, as well as Steffi, to witness what he has done on our behalf, and to linger over the details. If we refuse the challenge and turn away squeamishly, we are hypocrites. But by looking, we take part in the dishonouring of Steffi's photograph: women have always been a 'spoil' of war, and here she is mercilessly despoiled while the erect machinery mocks her lover's 'decay'. 'Decay' has overtones of detumescence---coming as it does from the Old French decheoir with its implications of falling, weakening, declining. The dead soldier's 'equipment' may be 'hard and good', but his equipment (wink, wink!) will never be hard and good again. Owen's 'Strange Meeting' had ended with enemies befriended and lying down together; Douglas's strange meeting celebrates the continuing potency of the living who laud it sexually over the dead.
Owen invites us to pity; how is Douglas inviting us to feel? If 'Vergissmeinnicht' is, as I believe, one of the greatest lyrics of its century, it is because it discomforts so profoundly. As readers, we never feel assured in our response; we never feel trustful of the speaker's attitudes or intentions. The poem steadfastly refuses to settle into a formal or tonal pattern, its rhymes constantly disconcerting but never becoming predictable. So what sounds initially as if it might reproduce the stanza of In Memoriam---fittingly for a well-behaved elegy of the kind that this turns out not to be---marks its resistance with the slant rhyme 'gone' / 'sun'. A stanza break appears to augur a fresh pattern, but 'gun' / 'on' / 'one' / 'demon' clash amongst themselves and look back to the previous stanza. Eight lines into the poem, and having already encountered pararhyme, slant rhyme and full rhyme, the reader still has no idea of the rules. And so it goes on, with that horrible conjunctive slant rhyme, 'spoil' / 'girl', and a macaronic rhyme of which Owen would be proud: 'Vergissmeinnicht' / 'script'. A poem which can rhyme on 'Vergissmeinnicht' (forget-me-not) is slyly aware that rhyme is itself an act of memory and recall, a repetition-with-variation. What makes Douglas's rhyming powerful is that the variations are themselves so various.
The final stanza contains a feminine rhyme ('mingled' / 'singled') and a pararhyme ('heart' / 'hurt'). In Richardson's terms, 'mingled' and 'singled' are disjunctive: to mingle is to do something like the opposite of 'singl[ing]'. By contrast, 'heart' and 'hurt' go straight to the point, because this is a romantic tragedy in which Steffi has already been imagined broken-hearted. But these chivalric tones are jeering, not respectful: the inversion of 'soldier singled', the lover's 'mortal hurt'---such orotund pronouncements, pumped full of their own afflatus, relish absurdity. What power the living are seen to wield: they can even turn the dead soldier's epitaph into travesty.