The Meaning of the Rhyme

In which I draw a connection between Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (2015 AD) and Virgil’s Aeneid (19 BC)…

Chiasmus is a literary term roughly referring to parallelism in reverse – an AB-BA form. It’s named for the Greek letter chi, which looks like an X.

The word order in Ancient Latin was very flexible – you could rearrange without changing the meaning – so poets like Virgil could chose an order that enhanced the meaning. I remember one particular section of the Aeneid where the hero was excitedly greeting his shipwrecked crew, and the word order was name-right hand-left hand-name. The order of the words was meant to emphasize Aeneas using both hands to embrace his crew, forming a X (chi) with his arms. Can you see it? (It’s Book I, line 611…)

In English, word order is stricter, so we’re slightly more limited in our use of chiasmus. Still it appears in little quips like “Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you. fool-kiss-kiss-fool. ABBA.

Or we can use rhyme, as I think Miranda has done in at least one spot in Hamilton.

Here’s the line Alexander Hamilton sings in Helpless:

Eliza, I don’t have a dollar to my name,
An acre of land, a troop to command,
A dollop of fame.

In this moment, Hamilton is marrying Elizabeth Schuyler. He is literally and metaphorically embracing her. And, I think, poetically embracing her with a rhyming chiasmus: name-land-command-fame. 

Whether through his instinct or intention, I think Miranda is tapping into a long tradition of subtly echoing the meaning in the poetry.