Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of poetry, is brought to you by Phillip Ellis.
The Varieties of Rhyming Experience
One of the elements of many poems is rhyme. What is it? What are the types of rhyme? Simply, rhymes are types of repeated sounds, with three basic types. I talk about these below. They can also appear anywhere in the poem; I mention this also. But do all poems have to rhyme? I also discuss this. I don’t go into too much detail: this is an introduction only, and books can be written on the subject.
What has to be remembered is that rhyming is based on the sounds of the rhyming words, not their spelling. The rhymes represent the way that the poem’s “speaker” pronounces those words; quite often, this speaker speaks the same way as the poet. If we look at a poem’s exact rhymes, we can often find out how that poet pronounced certain words. Poets whose rhymes reveal this detail include Alexander Pope and H. P. Lovecraft among many. But rhymes do not have to be exact rhymes to be acceptable: as you shall see, many words can partially rhyme, and have been called half-rhymes, partial rhymes, pararhymes and slant rhymes.
But first, those exact rhymes. An exact rhyme takes the vowel and ending of a word’s last stressed syllable, and any other syllables after it, and uses that as the basis of its rhyme. These rhymes may be called by other names; some of these include
- masculine rhymes: where the final syllable is the stressed one; e.g. “delight” and “write”
- feminine rhymes: where the stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable, and both of these rhyme; e.g. “callow” and “fallow”
- weak rhyme: where the final syllable is unstressed and rhymes; e.g. “”delightful” and “wonderful”
- light rhyme: where a final unstressed syllable rhymes with a final stressed syllable; e.g. “singing” and “king”
As you can see, the rhyming sounds are exactly alike.
Partial rhymes can take many forms. Common among all are the rhyming of one or more elements, rather than all of the elements of an exact rhyme. There are many names for these types of rhyme, but these tend to vary among both critics and poets, so that there are no uniform terms for the variety. The following rispetto shows some of the varieties (and effects) of partial rhyme:
The dusk that holds the hand of the night
is brief, and quickly fades from the skies,
and ushers in a realm of lights–
the stars, the streetlights, windows, crying
their messages beneath the vastness
of the great void, the blackness plastered
against the sight of beasts and men
for whom the heavens are circling, bent.
The third type that I mentioned is slant rhyme. This is a rhyme where the final sound forms the rhyme; with slant rhyme, “time” and “home” are rhymes, as it is that final ‘m’ sound that is repeated. The following quatrains contain only slant rhyme, and you can gather some of its effects from reading them aloud:
The hands of time will run
till time itself has faded,
and everything has gone:
the stars, atoms fled
and only radiation
is left, the all a void
that will remain unseen,
all watchers gone and dead.
But now, we count the stars
that mark the seasons, passing
yet fixed, despite the years
we know as brief and fleeting.
You will have noticed that these examples above use what is called end rhyme, rhymes that appear at the end of a line. This is not the only place for a rhyme. Rhymes can appear at a line’s start (initial rhyme), within the line itself, at the line’s end, and in any combination of the three. An excellent example of a poem using internal rhyme (rhymes in the middle) is Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”; I recommend hunting down a copy and reading it aloud to get the full effect. You may also like to try writing a poem that has lines where an end rhyme rhymes with an internal rhyme in the next line, or lines which use internal rhymes, but with no set pattern (such patterns are called rhyming schemes, and many forms of poems have a set rhyming scheme or schemes).
And it must be remembered that not every poem must rhyme. Most free verse does not rhyme, though it is possible to use rhyme with it. Many types of syllabic verse (where each line has a set amount of syllables) do not rhyme either, though some forms do, such as the syllabic sonnet (let me know if you’d like to learn about the different types of sonnet in the comments section). There are even special forms of poetry that do not rhyme: blank verse is one, and most of the many verse forms of Ancient Greek poetry do not rhyme. You may like to experiment with poems where certain lines rhyme and others do not, or where there might be only initial rhymes or internal rhymes, but no end rhymes.
I could easily write all day about rhymes and rhyming, even write books, but I wanted to give you a very basic introduction, not a massive book. I have talked about the three basic types of rhymes, and I have mentioned that they don’t have to sit at the end, and I have also mentioned that a poem does not have to rhyme. I have left it until now to say why I like to rhyme: I rhyme because I gain pleasure from the sounds and the linking between different words. Now it is up to you: the best ways to learn poetry are by reading as much of it that you can, writing as much as you can, and imitating those bits of it that you like. Very soon you will have plenty of practice in the varieties of rhyme, as well as other elements of a poem. In the meantime, leave a comment below or ask a question, or even share a poem where you have practised rhyming.
Thank you, Phillip. That was great. I write little poetry (mainly because I have too little spare time to write at all) and enjoy writing rhyme but it grates with me when I read poetry when ending words are inverted just to rhyme. To me – albeit an untrained poetry ear – it just sounds wrong.
His work includes The Flayed Man, Symptoms Positive and Negative and Arkham Monologues, and has forthcoming collections from Atlantean Press, Diminuendo Press and Hippocampus Press.
He edits Melaleuca, studies community services, and lives near Tweed Heads, Australia. His website is http://www.phillipaellis.com.
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