When the racist imperialist John Milton, who believed the Gaelic Irish to be subhuman, wrote in the introduction to his great blank verse poem Paradise Lost that ‘rhyme is the relic of a barbarous age’ he was inadvertently alerting us to the effect that formal elements of art are determined by the needs, structures, and capacities of the era in which they emerge.
In Milton’s day, now that the printing press had been invented and the age of mechanical reproduction had begun, poetry could potentially dispense with any formal elements whose primary purpose was the aiding of human memory for oral recall – thus Milton dispenses with end-rhyme and makes such a fuss about it.
Yet poetry remains fundamentally and originally the art of collective remembrance through oral recall. Most of the formal apparatus with which we still generally associate poetry even half a millennium post-printing press – rhyme, alliteration, assonance, regularity of metre and verse structure, choric and trope repetition and much much more – are techniques invented by ‘illiterate’ and ‘barbaric’ peoples thousands of generations ago which modern poets have in no way managed to supersede.
Before the internet, before the phonograph, before the book, before papyrus and vellum, long before even ogham and runes, the oral artform of poetry, imprinted upon nature’s greatest recording device, the human brain, was the ark and fount of all useful knowledge – the original knowledge store or ‘cloud’.”
Read on at link below & deep dive into the arts in the ancient world over at Culture Matters, in the first of my 3 part series on Arts in the Ancient world!