Prophecies Rhyme All the Time
Whenever characters are reading from an ancient prophecy or magical spell, it will rhyme, as if every ancient scroll and tome was written by Dr. Seuss. Even funnier, the translation makes it rhyme in English
, regardless of what culture it came from. It's like an attempt at Gratuitous Iambic Pentameter
, running headlong into Mundane Made Awesome
That foreign-language Prophecies Rhyme All the Time
is one of the most blatant forms of either Conveniently Precise Translation
(if the characters actually translate it or use Translator Microbes
) or Translation Convention
(if they don't). In reality
, it's hard work to translate a rhyme in one language into a rhyme in the other, not the kind of thing that you could easily do on the fly.
Mind you, the translators of the classical poets like Homer, Virgil, the author of Beowulf, or Dante often find it worth the effort to make their translations rhyme. But the harder you work at something like this, the more you sacrifice things like keeping the actual meaning of the prophecy intact. And surely most prophecies are vague enough already without translating them in a way that carries their meaning even farther away from the exact events that fulfill the prophecy. In that sense, if you hear a translated prophecy that rhymes, you should be worried that it was an especially In
precise translation. Remember, a poem is a toy, but a prophecy is a tool.
Possibly justifiable, as rhyming when translated into the language spoken by the people who have to do something about it, and not in any language existing at the time the prophecy was written, is a clever way to prove that it's a real prophecy. But that only works if it's a sufficiently straightforward translation
to show that the prophet did it rather than the translator.
The trope probably originates from the Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece, where it was standard practice for the priests attending the oracle to render her visionary ravings into elegant hexameter verse for petitioners. More generally, in pre-literate societies poetry was an important mnemonic tool - prophecies that rhyme or scan stand a far better chance of being remembered precisely than prophecies which do not, and precise wording is generally very important where prophecies are concerned.
As if to enforce the trope, some characters break out in rhyme
when they receive prophetic visions.
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Anime & Manga
- Yu-Gi-Oh! is an egregious user of this trope; all of the prophecies rhyme, even if they're translated from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Movie lampshaded this with Yugi actually asking if the prophecy was written by Dr. Seuss.
- The 4Kids dub of Ojamajo Doremi had the witches-in-training chant a rhyming couplet stating their spell's intention, rather than a string of magical words ending with a command as in the original. Amusingly, this is just what Doctor Strange does when casting spells.
- Lampshaded in Issue 1 of Gold Digger, where one character translates an ancient message in rhyme, and is called on it.
- Similarly lampshaded in an issue of DC's old Forgotten Realms comic, in which a character coming out of a trance and wondering what happened is laconically informed that he was just "spouting prophetic poetry. Bad prophetic poetry, at that."
- In Fables, Ozma made a prophecy about Bigby & Snow's children. Some people have questioned if it was a real prophecy, but most think it is since she mentions all seven children(most people think they only have six, since they've hidden Ghost's existence).
"The first child will be a king, the second child a pauper. The third will do an evil thing, the fourth will die to stop her. The fifth will be a hero bold, the sixth will judge the rest. The seventh lives to ages old, and is by Heaven blessed."
Films — Animation
Films — Live-Action
- The prophecy in The Dark Crystal.
- From Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny: "From where you came you shall remain \ until you are complete again". It was originally in Latin too.
- Played straight, subverted, and lampshaded in the film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone/Sits at Cair Paravel in throne/The evil time will be over and done. Susan:
You know, that doesn't really rhyme... Mr. Beaver:
You're kinda missin' the point.
- Blood Sucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh takes Egyptian hieroglyphs and achieves a rhyming prophecy in English. Then again, since the note was written by the killer, who claims she was trying to lure them in, this might not be surprising.
- Neverwas justifies Gabriel Finch's prophecies all rhyming because he recounted them for years to an author who used them for a children's fantasy book. Likely, they rhymed more and more as he repeated them.
- In Book 4 of the Lone Wolf series The Chasm of Doom, Lone Wolf can meet a mysterious old man, Gwynian the Sage of Varetta, who gives him a Scroll with an ominous prophecy foreshadowing the true nature of the threat in the book. Fortunately, this is one of those prophecies that can be foiled. Said prophecy of course rhymes.
When the full moon shines o'er the temple deep,
A sacrifice will stir from sleep
The legions of a long forgotten lord.
When a fair royal maid on the altar dies,
The dead of Maakengorge shall rise
To claim their long-awaited reward.
- No one who has ever had anything important to say in the Redwall books has had the ability to avoid saying it in rhyme.
- In the first Artemis Fowl book, the translation of the Book of the People inexplicably rhymes.
- Literary: Averted in the DragonCrown War series by Michael Stackpole. In the first, a prophecy is made in Elven, then translated into English. It doesn't rhyme in the slightest, in either language, nor was it expected to.
- Perhaps one of the most famous is the Ur-quote from Lovecraft's Necronomicon: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons even death may die."
- It twisted the history of and etymology of the English language so that it would rhyme.
- Spoofed in Good Omens, as seen in the page quote.
- Not only does the prophecy in The Darkangel Trilogy rhyme, but it is also revealed a couple of stanzas at a time in each volume.
- The two prophecies central to The Dark Is Rising series, each of which are some twenty lines long, read like this.
- The Lord of the Rings
- The inscription of the One Ring: "Ash nazg durbatulūk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulūk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul," which rhymes "find them" with "bind them," and (depending on your definition of "rhyme") "them all" with itself. "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." Considering that Tolkien was explicitly invoking the Translation Convention for his work, this suggests that it's a rhyme in at least three languages (our English, the Black Tongue, and the Westron language the notional "real" text was translated from).
- Also, All that is gold does not glitter, about the return of the King (though that was more of a hopeful poem than a prophecy as such).
- Ithlinne's Prophecy in Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher Cycle is, in its pure form, a partial example, consisting of both non-rhyming and rhyming parts. However, the Black Sun Prophecy, which foresees "sixty women of crowns of gold who will fill the rivers with blood", might be just a power play of sorcerers wanting to remove unwanted heiresses and it doesn't rhyme. Geralt expresses sarcastic disbelief, because all the prophecies worth the name rhyme.
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The prophecy rhymes... supposedly: "When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone, Sits at Cair Paravel in throne, The evil time will be over and done." Susan calls this out in the movie ("You know, that doesn't really rhyme.").
- Both prophecies, in fact: "Wrong will be right, When Aslan comes into sight, At the Sound of his roar, Sorrows will be no more, As he bares his teeth, Winter shall meet its death, And when he shakes his mane, We shall have spring again."
- Whenever a prophecy is delivered in Fool, regardless of who is delivering it, it rhymes, much to Pocket's increasing ire and bemusement.
- In Steven Brust's Dragaera novels, a poem describes the Cycle of how the seventeen Houses take turns ruling the Empire. Not only does this rhyme tell what's yet to happen in future history, but what's already happened, over and over again, in the past. The Cycle turns almost entirely by natural processes (each House has genetically-determined preferences of rule and blind spots), and it's been clear what happens when for nearly two thousand centuries, so this could have sprung up later rather than being a prophecy. Comparing the English poem to what it refers to, it actually looks like a translation where some lines were changed for the sake of preserving rhyme, as some don't properly describe their House's role, or their House... or even their animal.
- Lampshaded and parodied in John Moore's Heroics for Beginners. The hero meets a mysterious fortuneteller, but complains that her prophecies don't rhyme. Exasperated, she whips up a quatrain on the spot (or tries to ... she has to send him a message later with the last line).
- Every prophecy in Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, rhymes, except for one conspicuous aversion in The Son of Neptune.
- A rare aversion in Harry Potter, no less. Twice, Professor Trelawney has delivered prophecies, neither of which exactly rhyme, though they contain repeated phrases: Once concerning Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail in Prisoner of Azkaban, and again, nearly twelve years prior concerning Harry and Voldemort.
- Parodied in The Rook where the Checquy encounters many false prophecies that, "inevitably rhyme but don't scan."
- The witch that foretells Arrow-Odds fate at the beginning of The Saga of Arrow-Odd delivers her prophecy in alliterative verse.
- Power Rangers Dino Thunder features an Egyptian curse in rhyming English. The tablet with the cryptic solution also proves to rhyme in English.
- Averted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Prophecies are not unusual in either show, but they rarely rhyme; indeed, they're usually just a line or two of prose.
- Averted in Legend of the Seeker:
"As long as the Mother Confessor's pure heart beats, the Keeper
is doomed to fail."
- Played with in Doctor Who, the poem about the good man that goes to war. Though technically prophetic, poem is actually historical, relating to an event that had already happened (relatively speaking) rather than what will happen in the (again, relative) future. Though as with all things Doctor Who, Timey-Wimey Ball makes a hash out of that particular point.
Demons run when a good man goes to war.
Night will fall and drown the sun
When a good man goes to war.
Friendship dies and true love lies,
Night will fall and the dark will rise,
When a good man goes to war.
Demons run, but count the cost;
The battle's won, but the child is lost.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Averted with Bajoran prophecies, with the notable exception of Horran's Seventh which begins, "He will come to the palace, bearing no malice, carrying a chalice, filled with sweet spring wine."
- In Once Upon a Mattress, both the Marriage Law and the curse on King Sextimus are stated as rhyming couplets.
- Averted in Digger, where they may not even be a complete sentence.
- In Rusty and Co., Madeline's quest hooks, courtesy of Derek the Cleric.
- Teen Titans: "The Gem was born of evil's fire;/the Gem shall be His portal./He comes to claim, He comes to sire/The end of all things mortal."
- It also happens in one episode of Kim Possible when Kim is trying to protect a young prince from the descendants of the Royal Families treacherous knights: "Awaiting the light of a full harvest moon;/Rodigahn's foe will soon face his doom/In the shadow of the palace we will not be deterred;/the monarchy ends with Wallace The Third."
- The toned-down children's TV series of Watership Down turned Waif Prophet Fiver into an Oracular Urchin whose every prophecy Rhymes on a Dime.
- Parodied in a live-action segment in the The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Luigi made his brother disappear. The spell to bring him back (according to the Guest Star) was something like "Ping-ping pear... wing-wing wear... make old Mario... Re-a-pear!"
- Gargoyles has this prophecy regarding King Arthur claiming Excalibur; "Isle of towers, glass and stone / The lady waits for him alone / Ebon glass in emerald frame / Pure white lilies speak her name / Blood red bane in dragon stone / Excalibur waits for him alone."
- Very few people know that the prophecies of Nostradamus rhyme in French, because they definitely do not in English. Note that Nostradamus' French is archaic and barely counts as French, even for its time. It's one of the reasons that people can so easily lend meanings to his words.
- While ancient Greeks generally didn't use rhymes, the prophecies issued e. g. by the Oracle of Delphi frequently took the shape of verse.
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