Tell it slant
Talking about (and reading
The psychological and emotional density of the line is fairly self-evident, but at the nuts and bolts level I’ve always liked that echoing of an internal rhyme with “attempt” and “imitate” … not so much a traditional rhymed pair as a rhyming of consonance reinforced by sibilant Ts. In prosody, it’s what called a half or slant rhyme (in case you forgot from your reading of Emily Dickinson in high school or college … Dickinson being the naughty mistress of half rhyming … “tell all truth,” she says, “but tell it slant”).
Which got me to thinking about other smart slant rhymes, which got me to thinking about (what else) gospel music, and so, to “He Loved me with a Cross” and the line:
I could not imagine what
Loving me would cost
What’s so clever about this line is the way the writer, or in this case, the writers (Lindsey, as it happens, and Sue C. Smith) tinker with the rhythmic structure of the lines to come up with that neat little internal slant rhyme on “not” and “what.”
Metrical conventions would typically have led a writer to render the line:
And I could not imagine
What loving me would cost
The iambs line up more naturally that way. But switch it up so that “what” falls at the end of the first line, and you get a much more lyrically rich expression of the same sentiment, reinforced by the slant rhyme and intensified by the pregnancy of the idea left dangling for just a beat between the two phrases: could not imagine what …?
This is the kind of thing – moving one word in such a simple way – that achieves more in a few keystrokes than hours of rewrite and revision. But of course because it’s so counterintuitive to the conventions of songwriting and the seasoned musical mind, it’s also the kind of thing you have to wait to strike you in the middle of the night, or mid-sentence, or stooping over to tie your shoe.
Aha. Brilliant.Email this Post