Monarchs in Rhyme by Linda Mockett

With some things you just need to read the label.  As its name suggests, this is a book about monarchs presented in the form of heroic rhyming couplets.  Specifically it is about the kings of England.  I don’t make a habit of reviewing books when I haven’t completely read them, but I have to confess I have only managed about a third of this one.  Poetry of any kind is a bit of a minority interest nowadays.  I have to say that my poetry consumption is not at all high, and what I do read is primarily classics rather than new writers.  Rhyming couplets are probably the least favoured form of verse.  So it was courageous of Linda to tackle such an ambitious project.

The master of this form for my money has to be Thomas Babbington Macaulay.  His ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ are superb examples of telling stories in verse form.  I loved them as a kid and still find them worth the odd read now.   Linda’s ambition exceeds that of Macaulay both in the sheer breadth of her subject matter, and that she even does the introductory bits in rhyme.  The error that absolutely kills rhyming couplets is coming up with hackneyed or strained rhymes.  Nothing kills poetry quicker than an unintended bit of comic relief.  But I have to say I was impressed by Linda’s rhyming ability.  She did obviously intend her poems to be comical rather than tragic, and they are amusing.

So why did I only manage a small portion of this book?  The trouble was mainly that the framing assumes a knowledge of the events being described.  Where I knew what was being talked about it was an entertaining and fun read.  Where I was a bit hazier about the subject matter,  I couldn’t really make sense of it.  In that sense it would be better to compare it to ‘1066 and All That’ rather than the ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’.  Funny when you know what is being parodied.

But if you like poetry, humour and have a very good grasp of British history you might well find this a worthwhile read.

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