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Wikipedia's oldest, 2004, version of the article on Chain Rhyme defines it:

Chain rhyme is the linking together of stanzas by carrying a rhyme over from one stanza to the next.

While older works, talking of "CHAIN VERSE", circa 1882, describe that as:

This ingenious style of versification, where the last word or phrase in each line is taken for the beginning of the next, is sometimes also called “Concatenation” verse. The invention of this mode of composition is claimed by M. Lasphrise, a French poet.

Does Wikipedia's definition have a source that would make "Chain Rhyme" an ambiguous term? Or is "Chain Rhyme" not a synonym for "Chain Verse"?

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2 Answers 2

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Both terms have been used for two different devices, so both terms are potentially ambiguous, but it is not difficult to explain which one you mean. In this answer, I’m going to call the two devices “interlocking rhyme” and “concatenated verse”, to avoid ambiguity.

Interlocking rhyme

Chain rhyme (Ger. Kettenreim, äusserer Reim, verschr, änkter Reim). Interlocking or interlaced rhyme that refers to any rhyme scheme in which one line or stanza links to the next line or stanza, forming a pattern of alternating rhymes.

T. V. F. Brogan & J. Chang (2012). Entry for ‘chain rhyme’. In Roland Greene, ed. (2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th edition, p. 220. Princeton University Press.

Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ is an example, its rhyme-scheme being AABA BBCB CCDC DDDD. The most frequently used form of interlocking rhyme is probably the Italian terza rima, used by Dante in the Divine Comedy: this form being the subject of the first known use of the term “chain verse” in English:

First therefore, I dare boldly avouch that the English is not altogether so natural to a Satyre as the Latin: which I doe not impute to the nature of the language it selfe, being so farre from disabling it any way, that me thinks I durst equall it to the proudest in every respect; but to that which is common to it withall other common languages, Italian, French, Germaine, &c, in their Poesyes, the fettering together the series of the verses, with the bonds of like cadence or desinence of ryme, which if it be usually abrupt, and not dependent in sense upon so neere affinitie of words, I know not what a loathsome kinde of harshness & discordance it breadeth to any judicial eare: which if any more confident adversary shall gainsay, I wish no better trial than the translation of one of Persius his Satyrs into English; the difficultie & disonance whereof, shal make good my assertion, besides the plaine experience thereof in the Satyres of Ariosto, (save which) and one base French Satyre, I could never attaine the view of any for my direction, (& that also might for neede serve for an excuse at least,) whose chaine-verse to which he fettereth himselfe, as it may well afford a pleasing harmony to the eare, so can it yelde nothing but a flashy and loose conceyt to the judgment.

Joseph Hall (1598). Virgidemiarum, book 3, p. 104. London: Robert Dexter.

Terza rima uses the rhyme-scheme ABA BCB CDC DED …. For example, Ariosto’s first satire begins:

Io desidero intendere da voi
Alessandro fratel, compar mio Bagno,
Se la corte ha memoria piu de noi;
Se piu il signor mi accusa; se compagno
Per me si lieva, e dice la cagione
Perche partendo gli altri, io qui rimagno:
O tutti dotti ne la adulatione;
L’arte, che piu tra noi si studia e cole;
L’ajutate a biasmarmi oltre a ragione.

Fain would I know, and should, for truths depend
On counsels from a brother and a friend;
If still the court a thought of me retains,
If of my absence still my Lord complains,
If some good friend excuses tries to find,
Why, when the rest set out, I stay’d behind.
O skill’d in flatt’ry all, too well you know,
How few to better arts preferment owe!

Ludovico Aristo (c. 1520). Satira Prima. In Francesco Turchi Trivigiano, ed. (1571). Rime, et Satire, p. 3. Venice: Christoforo Zanetti. Anonymous English translation (1759). The Satires of Ludovico Ariosto, pp. 17–18. London: A. Millar. The translator did not attempt to employ terza rima, but used ordinary rhyming couplets.

Hall’s use of “chain verse” for Ariosto’s verse-form makes an analogy between the tercets and the links in a chain, which is apposite for Hall’s metaphor in which the rhyme-scheme weighs down the poet like a ball and chain.

Concatenated verse

Concatenation (Lat., concatenare; “to link together”). Concatenation literally translates as “to connect together like the links of a chain” and describes the act of “chaining” stanzas together through the use of a word, phrase, or a line at the end of one stanza that is repeated (in its entirety or in a slightly altered version) in the first line of the following stanza.

T. V. F. Brogan & I. D. Copestake (2012). Entry for ‘Concatenation’. In Roland Greene, ed. (2012). The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th edition, p. 288. Princeton University Press.

This is an ancient device known as “conachlann” in Irish. Describing the 8th-century Calendar of Saint Óengus of Tallaght, Eugene O’Curry wrote:

This composition consists, properly, of three parts. The first is a poem of live quatrains, invoking the grace and sanctification of Christ for the poet and his undertaking. […] The Invocation is written in the ancient Conachlann, or what modern Gaedhlic scholars call in English “chain-verse”; that is, an arrangement of metre by which the first words of every succeeding quatrain are identical with the last words of the preceding one. The following literal translation may not be out of place here:

Sanctify, O Christ! my words:—
    O Lord of the seven heavens!
    Grant me the gift of wisdom,
    O Sovereign of the bright sun!
O bright sun, who dost illuminate
    The heavens with all thy holiness!
    O King who governest the angels!
    O Lord of all the people!
O Lord of the people!
    O King all-righteous and good!
    May I receive the full benefit
    Of praising Thy royal hosts.
Thy royal hosts I praise,
    Because Thou art my Sovereign;
    I have disposed my mind.
    To be constantly beseeching Thee.
I beseech a favour from Thee,
    That I be purified from my sins
    Through the peaceful bright-shining flock,
    The royal host whom I celebrate.

Eugene O’Curry (1861). Lectures on the Manuscript Materials of Ancient Irish History, pp. 365–366. Dublin: J. Duffy.

Charles Bombaugh described this under the heading “concatenation or chain verse”, and noted a claim by Marc Papillon de Lasphrise (1555–1599) that he (independently) invented the device:

Concatenation or Chain Verse. Lasphrise, a French poet of considerable merit, claims the invention of several singularities in verse, and among them the following, in which it will be found that the last word of every line is the first word of the following line:—

Falloit-il que le Ciel me rendist Amoureux,
Amoureux iouyssant d’une beaute craintive,
Craintive à recevoir douceur excessive,
Excessive aux plaisirs qui font l’Amour heureux
Heureux si nous avions quelques commodes lieux,
Lieux où assurément l’Amy fidele arrive,
Arrive sans soupçon de quelqu’ame attentive,
Attentive à veiller l’action de nous deux.

Was it necessary for heaven to make me fall in love,
In love, rejoicing in a fearful beauty,
Fearful of receiving too much sweetness,
Too much for the pleasures which make love happy?
Happy if we had some convenient places,
Places where the faithful friend assuredly comes,
Comes without suspicion of some keen soul,
Keen to spy on the conduct of us two.

Charles Carroll Bombaugh (1874). Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest-Fields of Literature, pp. 85–86. Philadephia: J. Lippincott. Text of the poem from Marc Papillon de Lasphrise (1599). Les Premières oeuvres poétiques du capitaine Lasphrise, p. 260. Paris: Jean Gesselin. (The text quoted by Bombaugh has modernized spelling and different wording in several places.) My translation.

Bombaugh also gave four English examples (see pp. 86–87).

When concatenated verse rhymes, some writers have called the device “chain rhyme”, for example:

Be that as it may, it is undeniable that the repetition of meaningless rhymes, as well as of reasonable words and passages, is important to poetry as a whole. I would refer in this connection to Grosse’s Beginnings of Art, and for my own part confine myself to selecting a few interesting examples. The first is the chain rhyme, such as always delights a child. The following is from a favourite song of theirs:

Reben tragt der Weinstock;
Hörner hat der Ziegenbock;
Die Ziegenbock hat Hörner;
Im Wald der wachsen Dörner,
Dörner wachsen im Wald.
Im Winter ist es kalt,
Kalt ist’s im Winter, etc.

Vines bear grapes;
Billy-goats have horns;
Horns has the billy-goat;
In the woods grow thorns,
Thorns grow in the woods.
In winter it is cold,
It is cold in winter, etc.

Karl Groos (1914). The Play of Man, pp. 35–36. New York: D. Appleton.

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  • That translation of Falloit-il que le ciel doesn't really capture the flavor of the original. For example, I believe that in mediaeval French, attentive could mean either "waiting" or "keen" (or "attentive"). So a better translation of those two lines would be "Comes without suspecting that somebody is waiting, // Keen on taking both of us by surprise." (continued)
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:25
  • This change of meaning happens to an even greater degree in the last two lines of Papillon's sonnet: "Encore croy-je bien que je ne suis plus ore, // Ore que ma moitié est loin de mon pouvoir." Here, the first "ore" means "gold" and the second one means "now" (these were homonyms). So I think a better translation would be "I still truly believe that I am no longer gold, Now that my (other) half is no more in my power." Of course, if you want to translate chain verse into chain verse, all these subtle (or not so subtle) changes of meaning between lines are going to get lost.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:30
  • @PeterShor I had to choose between keeping the concatenation and the double meaning. I apologise. Commented Mar 3 at 19:34
  • That was your translation? It's very good! Finally, let me say that the last six lines of Papillon's sonnet are missing in most reprints of the poem: Deux beaux amants d'accord qui s'en meurent d'envie, // D'envie leur amour sera tantost finie; // Finie est la douceur que l'on ne peut plus voir, // Voir, entendre, sentir, parler, toucher encore; // Encore croy-je bien que je ne suis plus ore, // Ore que ma moitié est loin de mon pouvoir. And here, I believe (I'm really unsure about my ability to interpret Middle French) that envie has a similar subtle change in meaning.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Mar 3 at 19:41
  • I couldn't find a published translation so I had to do it myself! Bombaugh only gives these eight lines, but I should have searched Gallica—here's the complete sonnet on p. 260 of Les Premières oeuvres poétiques du capitaine Lasphrise (1599). I note that Bombaugh (or his source) has reworded in some places, for example, "assurément" in line 6 has become "plus surement" in Bombaugh. I will revise accordngly. Commented Mar 3 at 20:18
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Here you can see an example of a chain rhyme

(Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by R. Frost)

Whose woods these are I think I know. A

His house is in the village though; A

He will not see me stopping here B

To watch his woods fill up with snow. A

My little horse must think it queer B

To stop without a farmhouse near B

Between the woods and frozen lake C

The darkest evening of the year. B

Each verse follows an AABA rhyming scheme, Overall, the rhyme scheme is AABA BBCB .

The following poem is chain verse. And Chain rhyme is also known as “chain verse or interlocking rhyme". In both variants the lines are connected in some peculiar way, but this chain is different.

Nerve thy soul with doctrines noble,

Noble in the walks of time,

Time that leads to an eternal,

An eternal life sublime.

So the notions and the means are different, but both variants are united as "chain rhymes".

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