How to Use Rhyme in Poetry


How to Use Rhyme in PoetryWhat is the difference between a poem and a story? Poetic elements, the most prominent of which is rhyme.

Rhyme defining poetry

There is a much more complex explanation for what makes a poem a poem. But if someone were to hand you a pen and paper and tell you to write a poem, chances are you’d just start spewing rhymes at them.

Consider the prophecy from The LEGO Movie:

One day, a talented lass or fellow, a special one with face of yellow, will make the Piece of Resistance found from it’s hiding refuge underground, and with a noble army at the helm, this Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm, and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times. All this is true because it rhymes.

I’ve broken the quote into lines to help you see the founding poetic element: rhyme.

One day, a talented lass or fellow,
a special one with face of yellow,
will make the Piece of Resistance found
from it’s hiding refuge underground,
and with a noble army at the helm,
this Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm,
and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times.
All this is true because it rhymes.

Rhyme is the element that gives the prophecy meaning. And rhyme is what most easily distinguishes normal speech from poetry.

For example, part of the challenge of free verse poetry is that it is highly structured poetry but the lines do not rhyme. If you heard a free verse poem, you might not even be able to distinguish it from ordinary speech.

When shouldn’t you use rhyme?

Rhyme can make poetry seem trite because so much of our preschool literature is rhyme-based (think of the Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose). Simple rhymes especially can sound amateur or even contrived.

Consider John Donne’s sonnet “Death be not proud”

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Maybe it’s just me, but my ear struggles to distinguish much of a difference between this and something like Baa Baa Black Sheep. Even though the content and structure are clearly complex, the simplicity of the rhymes bugs me.

But let’s be real:

Poetry and rhyme go together

Unless you’re free writing or writing free verse, always use rhyme when you can. But there are several different kinds of rhyme you can use, which I will outline below:

Straight rhyme

(also known as identical rhyme)

Time / lime. She / we. Past / blast.

Straight rhyme is any kind of rhyme that sounds identical.

Slant rhyme

(also known as partial, off, and near rhyme)

Guitar / Qatar. Night / time. Horses / boarded.

Slant rhyme usually has the same intonation or vowel sound but isn’t 100% identical.

Rich rhyme

Poor / pour. Sore / soar. Strait / straight.

Rich rhyme is the kind of rhyme that uses homonyms to make straight rhymes.

Eye rhyme

Tough / through. Ally / basically. Height / weight.

Eye rhyme looks like it should rhyme. English pronunciation rules, however, mean they don’t actually rhyme.

End and internal rhyme

End rhyme is when the last word of your line rhymes.

Internal rhyme is when words within your poetic line rhyme.

Rhyme schemes

In addition to using different kinds of rhymes, your poetry can follow an infinite number of kinds of rhyme schemes based on end rhyme. A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme that your poem follows. We denote it using letters, for example:

AABA CCDC EEFE GG

Each letter stands for a different rhyme sound. For example, A = rhymes with “might”. Depending on the poem you can rhyme any kind of sound, but when it repeats, you are following a scheme. Here’s another common rhyme scheme:

ABAB CBCB DCDC EAEA

Alternating rhymes between lines and stanzas—nice. Let’s take a look at the poems we’ve used so far.

The LEGO Movie‘s prophecy has a rhyme scheme of:

AABBCCDD

One day, a talented lass or fellow,
a special one with face of yellow,
will make the Piece of Resistance found
from it’s hiding refuge underground,
and with a noble army at the helm,
this Master Builder will thwart the Kragle and save the realm,
and be the greatest, most interesting, most important person of all times.
All this is true because it rhymes.

And John Donne’s sonnet’s rhyme scheme is:

ABBAABBACDDCAA

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

You can choose a rhyme scheme before you start your poem, or just start writing. Another good tactic is to imitate someone else’s rhyme scheme if you get stuck.

Now that you have a good sense for what rhyme is and how it works in poetry, what questions do you have? What suggestions would you give to poets who have trouble with rhyme? Should poets use rhyme? Share in the comments below!

 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *