• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

Rhyme and reasons for rhyme – Part I

Writing.ie | Guest Bloggers | Poetic Licence

Kate Dempsey

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Rhyme and poetry go together like tomatoes and onions, tea and milk, his and hers. They often go together, complement each other. But it’s not mandatory.

Rhyme in English is the repetition of similar sounds.

Cat, Hat, Wombat, Fancy that, rat-a-tat-tat

It’s been around for so long in poems that a rhyme IS a poem, e.g. nursery rhyme.

Perfect Rhyme

This is when the last stressed syllable and any following syllables all sound the same.

masculine rhyme ends on a stressed syllable

e.g. lawn, withdrawn, airborne

and a feminine rhyme on an unstressed syllable.

e.g. designation, organisation, palpatation

There’s also a Dactylic Rhyme where theres two unstressed syllables at the end.

devious, mischevious

It’s recommended to end a poem on a stressed syllable for a stronger poem.

Why would you use perfect rhymes in poems? Partly there’s the belief that all poems should rhyme. But we’re in the 21st century now so rule is gone. If anything, rhyming poetry is frowned on. Take a look at virtually any well regarded journal and you can count the rhyming poems on fingers. Sometimes there are none. Is that just a fashion? I don’t know.

Here’s an example from my sonnet entitled “My Grandma’s Older Than the Pope”

Gran, you’re older than the pope

she didn’t have her hearing aid

she said, it’s upstairs by the soap

and poured a gin and lemonade

And that leads neatly into the next observation. Rhyming poems are often humerous. And vice versa. And humerous poems are also somewhat frowned on in literary circles although a good humerous poem can be much harder than a gloomy, solemn un-rhyming one.

Another reason to use rhymes is that it makes it MUCH EASIER to memorise. If you recite your poems, and you should, you will appreciate that.

Other rhymes are used everywhere, even in apparently free or blank verse. Mostly for the ear.

An imperfect rhyme is when a stressed syllable rhymes with an unstressed syllable.

e.g. Sing, dancing

If you read a lot of poetry (and you should) you should look out for slant rhymes (also known as oblique or forces rhymes) which are used within lines to add a sense of coherence. These are rhymes with an imperfect match

e.g. From my poem The Flight of Swallows, published in Grist 1. from the University of Huddersfield

A single swallow flies somehow

in the window, the gap she comes through

as thick as your hospital chart,

realises her mistake and skirts

the stitched screen…

There’s also assonance (do you remember these from school?) matching vowels

e.g. escape, plate and hive, fight

and consonance (matching consonants)

e.g. pitter, patter and brain, brown

Half rhyme where the last consonants match but not the vowel (are you still with me?)

e.g. chart, skirt or truffle, offal (I’d like to see that poem!)

and that Old English/Middle English tradition, alliteration

e.g. from Beowulf

Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings,

Leader beloved, and long he ruled

In fame with all folk since his father had gone

Well, that’s enough for this blog post. Part II soon


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