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Prophecies Rhyme All the Time

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"Most of the prophets of the past millennium were more concerned with scansion than accuracy. You know, 'And thee Worlde Unto An Ende Shall Come, in tumpty-tumpty-tumpty One.' Or Two, or Three, or whatever. There aren't many good rhymes for Six, so it's probably a good year to be in."
Aziraphale, Good Omens

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 Inconveniently Imprecise translation.

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. See also the sister trope Rhyming Wizardry.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Ojamajo Doremi: The 4Kids dub has 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.
  • Pok√©mon 2000 (dub only): "Disturb not the harmony of fire, ice, or lightning, lest these titans wreak destruction upon the world in which they clash. Though the water's great guardian shall arise to quell the fighting, alone his song will fail; thus the Earth shall turn to ash." Et cetera.
  • 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.

    Comic Books 
  • 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."
  • Forgotten Realms: 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."
  • Gold Digger: Lampshaded in Issue 1, where one character translates an ancient message in rhyme, and is called on it.

    Fan Works 
  • Harry Potter: The original series' Prophecy not being an example is commented on. Hermione in particular finds it underwhelming in The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, and complains that it doesn't rhyme when it's brought up.
    Hermione: Blah. That doesn't even rhyme.
    Dumbledore: Miss Granger!
    Hermione: "Sorry. Sorry. That was uncalled for.
  • Kage: Yua was told by a friend called Kage centuries ago of a prophecy regarding a blue girl who's apparently Jade Chan (or the Queen of the Shadowkhan), destined to end Kandrakar's influence over the W.I.T.C.H. universe.
    "From another realm, another place; comes a dark child of a long forgotten race; from thrive to trial she will reach her throne; the light of the sky will be darkened by her will alone."
  • The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World: Lampshaded to hellangone. Right from the start the four encounter a poem carved in a wall. John immediately sneers at how bad it is, and complains that if it's meant for them, he does not want to be communicated to that way. They soon run into more poems and lines of poetry, all bad ("Hooray, more shitty poetry!" John cries at one point). When they find out that the gods wrote some of this stuff, John sniffs, "Well, now we know they ain't the gods of poetry.")
  • The Last Son: Irene Adler's prophecy regarding Superman's fate consists of a lengthy descriptive paragraph written entirely in rhyme.
    "All of you now, from near and from far, mark well the Child that comes from the Star! Great power he has, which no man can match, the dark he will fight, and swiftly dispatch. Death will fall from the sky, with unquenchable fire, but the Child will strive on, and shall never tire. Monsters shall rise, in a world full of hate, yet the Child will bring light, to challenge this fate. Another will come, with might equal to he, but he will still win, in ways we can't see. And all around him, mutantkind shall unite, to drive back the dark, in a terrible fight. And hope shall be gone, as victory seems far, but hope shall return, with the Child of the Star."

    Films — Animation 
  • Faeries (1999) had: "Two human children from otherwhere, one foot wet, flaming hair, when they appear, the time is near."
  • Hercules: Lampshaded. Hades sweet talks the Fates into telling him the future and they consent. On hearing the first few lines of the prophecy, Hades comments it.
  • The LEGO Movie: Lampshaded early on, where the poetic prophecy's final rhyme is "All this is true, because it rhymes." It later turns out Vitruvius made up the prophecy and the rhyming was just for effect.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • As Above, So Below: Scarlett and George find a mysterious inscription on the back of Nicholas Flamel's grave marker that is clearly written in another language (possibly French). George quickly translates it into English, and it somehow not only rhymes but is also in iambic pentameter. It's debatable whether this counts as a genuine prophecy (it seems more to be a coded message/list of instructions) but it certainly comes across as one.
  • Ask a Policeman: Not a prophecy as such, but Harbottle remembers an old poem about the Headless Horseman which supposedly contains vital information. Unfortunately, he can't recall the last line, which contains the information, and makes something up that makes no sense. When the characters eventually learn the real final line, it completely destroys the scansion of the poem.
  • Bloodsucking 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.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Played straight, subverted, and lampshaded. The prophecy describing how the heroes shall defeat the White Witch is in rhyme, but not very good rhyme. When they start critiquing the style, another characters suggests that they're kind of missing the point.
  • The Dark Crystal: The prophecy describing how and if the sundering of the ancient UrSkeks shall be undone is a short, four-line rhyming piece.
  • 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.
  • The Scorpion King: Deleted scenes reveal that the prophecy of the Scorpion King was done in rhyme. Given how awful the rhyme is, it's not a surprise that it was cut from the film (even if that required a few scenes to be butchered as a side effect).
  • 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.

    Gamebooks 
  • Lone Wolf: In Book 4, 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, although in an unusual AABCCB scheme.
    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.

    Literature 
  • Artemis Fowl: In the first book, the translation of the Book of the People inexplicably rhymes.
  • The Camp Half-Blood Series: All prophecies rhyme, except for one conspicuous aversion in The Son of Neptune, where Mars just gives a straightforward set of instructions with no particular dressing. The Romans complain about the breach of form, but quickly drop the subject when the irritated god pulls out a grenade.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
    • The prophecy uses an eye rhyme, which gives it an archaic feeling, since eye rhymes were more acceptable a few centuries ago: "When Adam's flesh and Adam's bone, Sits at Cair Paravel in throne, The evil time will be over and done."
    • 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."
  • Cthulhu Mythos: One of the Necronomicon's quotes, foretelling the eventual return of the Old Ones, "That is not dead which can eternal lie, / And with strange aeons even death may die." Some later mythos writers have also suggested that the reason successive translations of the Necronomicon are of decreasing usefulness (which is a plot point in The Dunwich Horror) is that the writers were obsessed with this trope to the point of sacrificing accuracy for the sake of preserving the book's poetic meter. The aforementioned quote supposedly mentions something about Cthulhu's location in the Pacific Ocean in the original Arabic.
  • The Darkangel Trilogy: Not only does the prophecy rhyme, but it is also revealed a couple of stanzas at a time in each volume.
  • Dragaera: 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.
  • Fool: Whenever a prophecy is delivered, regardless of who is delivering it, it rhymes, much to Pocket's increasing ire and bemusement.
  • Good Omens: Spoofed when Aziraphale, a connoisseur of esoteric and apocalyptic texts, notes that would-be prophets tended to be more concerned with meter than accuracy. Later, he finds the only book of accurate prophecies, and his theory is apparently confirmed as they don't rhyme at all:
    1111. An the Great Hound sharl coom, and the Two Powers sharl watch in Vane, for it Goeth where is its Master, Where they Wot Notte, and he sharl name it, True to Ittes Nature, and Hell sharl flee it.
  • Heroics for Beginners: Lampshaded and parodied. 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).
  • I, Claudius: Early in, we see two Sibylline prophecies that hint of Claudius's rule. Both prophecies rhyme, though that wasn't a typical feature of Greek or Latin poetry (or prophecy). Arguably it's Translation Convention, translating Greek verse (which was based on patterns of long and short syllables) into an equivalent English poetic form (based on stressed syllables and rhyme).
  • The Lord of the Rings: The inscription of the One Ring — "Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul" — 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).
    • The dream verse beginning Seek for the Sword That Was Broken was a rhyme that cryptically foretold the Council of Elrond, and when Boromir set forth on a quest to discover its meaning, he arrived just in time to attend the Council.
    • The prophecy of Malbeth the Seer foretold Aragorn taking the Paths of the Dead, using alliterative verse rather than rhyme: Over the land there lies a long shadow...
  • Night Watch (Series): Arina's student Maria was given to making rhyming prophecies. This practice makes it hard for Arina and Anton to determine which Russian ruler Maria prophesied a bloody reign for as "tsar" is much easier to rhyme than "secretary general" or "prime minister."
  • Redwall: No one who has ever had anything important to say in the books, especially when recounting visions and warnings of future events, has had the ability to avoid saying it in rhyme.
  • The Rook: Parodied. The Checquy encounters many false prophecies that, "inevitably rhyme but don't scan".
  • Rowan of Rin: Every one of Sheba's prophecies rhymes.
  • The Saga of Arrow-Odd: The witch that foretells Arrow-Odd's fate at the beginning delivers her prophecy in alliterative verse.
  • The Secrets of Droon: Parodied by Portentia the oracle. She'd like to give her prophecies as rhyming riddles, but she's not very good at it. From her second appearance onward, her presentation gets much better.
  • The prophecy describing Superman's life and death in the prologue to Last Son of Krypton rhymes. It still rhymes in the epilogue, even though history has altered so it's now about Superman's life and greatest triumph.
  • The Underland Chronicles: All of Sandwich's prophecies rhyme.
  • The Witcher: Ithlinne's Prophecy 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: Played with with the poem about the good man that goes to war. Although technically prophetic, it is actually historical, relating to an event that had already happened (relatively speaking) rather than what will happen in the (again, relative) future. However, as is common the show, time travel 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.
  • Power Rangers: Dino Thunder features an Egyptian curse in rhyming English. The tablet with the cryptic solution also proves to rhyme in English.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: While most Bajoran prophecies aren't examples, Horran's Seventh begins with "He will come to the palace, bearing no malice, carrying a chalice, filled with sweet spring wine."
  • The Witcher (2019): In the first episode, Geralt dismisses a prophecy for not rhyming.

    Theatre 
  • Once Upon a Mattress: Both the Marriage Law and the curse on King Sextimus are stated as rhyming couplets.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The divination spell is described as giving answers sometimes in the form of a "cryptic rhyme". The 3rd edition Dungeon Master's Guide gives some advice on how to handle this, such as by noting that a DM might want to create a "mad libs"-type template to adjust to what the campaign ends up being like, instead of trying to improvise poetry on the spot.

    Video Games 
  • Quest for Glory:
    • Quest for Glory I: A prophecy that outlines what you need to do through the game is written as a simple AABB quartet.
    • Quest for Glory II also has a rhyming prophecy. Interestingly, there are two translations of the prophecy, with totally different meanings, and they both rhyme.
  • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: When Goombella spouts off lines from the legend of the titular door, it's all in rhyme, although it doesn't really have any meter.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: When Sophia the Goddess is freed from her imprisonment, one of her followers recites a rhyming four-line prophecy for her return.
  • Kingdom Hearts χ: Not all of what's written in the Book of Prophecies rhymes, but the prophecy foretelling the end of the world does.
    "On that fated land, a great war shall transpire.
    Darkness will prevail and the light expire."

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: When Mother Olm relays "the Prophecy" toward our heroes, it's delivered in a fairly straightforward AABB quartet.
    Three stars burning bright come from beyond to expel the night.
    Should they fight or embrace the fall, their choice will determine the fate of all!
  • 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."
  • Gravity Falls:
    • One of the various cryptic warnings about the Big Bad is presented as a short rhyming couplet. "When gravity falls and earth becomes sky, beware the beast with just one eye!"
    • "Northwest Mansion Mystery": The lumberjack ghost delivers his omens and warnings of doom in rhyme, which Dipper finds rather odd.
      Dipper: Pacifica! The ghost is turning everyone into wood and... started rhyming for some reason.
  • Kim Possible: In "Royal Pain", where Kim is trying to protect a young prince from the descendants of the royal family's treacherous knights, she discovers a four-line rhyming prophecy detailing how and when the royal line will end.
  • Popeye: In Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, there's a short rhyming bit describing the powers of the lamp and its location.
    A rub on this lamp brings riches and fame-
    This lamp is well guarded by torrents and flame—-
    But one dare secure it
    Aladdin's his name,
    He liveth on the corner of Chow and Main
  • The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!: Parodied in a live-action segment. Luigi makes his brother disappear. The spell to bring him back (according to the Guest Star) is something like "Ping-ping pear... wing-wing wear... make old Mario... re-a-pear!"
  • Teen Titans (2003): The prophecy foretelling the return of the demon Trigon the Terrible is a basic four-line AABB deal giving a basic description of how he will do so and a warning that this will be a terrible thing for everyone else.
    "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."
  • Thundarr the Barbarian: "Prophecy of Peril" starts with the Crystal of Prophecy and Thundarr, Ariel, and Ookla's attempt to steal it. The Crystal held an unknown prophecy that told how to bring about the downfall of the evil wizard Vashtar. When the Crystal shatters, because Vashtar zaps it to try to destroy it and the prophecy, the freed spirit tells all present the prophecy of the three women who will bring down Vashtar, with pictures.
  • Watership Down: The toned-down children's TV series turns Waif Prophet Fiver into an Oracular Urchin whose every prophecy Rhymes on a Dime.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
  • Played with in several of the prophetic books in the Bible, which do follow a poetic structure...but they're written in the style of Hebrew poetry. Hebrew poems don't normally rhyme in the modern sense (even in the original language), but instead "rhyme" ideas by saying the same thing in two different ways, or two closely-related things in similar ways. (This conveniently makes it one of the very few cultures whose poetry actually survives translation into other languages.) For example, Isaiah 53:5-6 says:
    But he was pierced for our transgressions, (A)
    He was crushed for our iniquities; (A)
    The punishment that brought us peace was on him (B)
    And by his wounds we are healed. (B)
    We all like sheep have gone astray, (C)
    Each of us has turned to his own way; (C)
    And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (D)

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The Fates recite in rhyme how in eighteen years, Hades will become ruler of the cosmos...but warn that Hercules could ruin everything.

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