Rhyme

Rhyme can be sublime. It can also be cringe-worthy when forced. Defined as the use of words that have the same or similar sounds, it is linked to poetry, but is no longer used in all poems, nor is it exclusively restricted to poems. The poets who still use this literary device have a variety of diverse rhyme schemes and types to choose from.

Rhyme Rhyme

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Contents
Table of contents

    Rhyme: meaning

    Rhyme is often associated with poetry but also features in prose, song lyrics, rap verses, the rhyming slang of London’s East End or America’s West Coast, and even Hallmark card ditties.

    The key to understanding rhyme is to recognise that this literary device is most often about sound and not spelling. So, for example, 'rhyme' and 'dime' will work, as will 'rhyme' and 'thyme'. Frequently used by poets at the end of a line within a stanza, the rhyming words often feature final syllables that are connected by similar sounds.

    There are various types of rhyme schemes and rhymes, and it is worth looking at some in more detail. This is a great way to understand how and why poets make use of different rhyme-based poetic devices, or even ignore them altogether.

    Rhyming slang is considered part of the lingo related to the criminal underworld of America's West Coast in the 1890s to 1920s. It was used as a way of communicating without outsiders, rivals, or the police being able to understand what was being said.1

    In England, rhyming slang was common in London's East End. Words or phrases were creatively used to replace other words with only a rhyme to connect them. For example, 'china plate' was used to replace 'mate'. 'Attila the Hun' was a 2:1 degree.

    Rhyme in poetry

    The history of rhyme in English language poems dates back to around the late seventh century. There are a few theories about when and where it all originated but no one is sure. What is known is that the poetic use of rhyme has a long and varied history across many cultures and languages.

    The use of rhyme in English language poetry had some shaky patches, being referred to by Thomas Campion as:

    a vulgar and easie kind of poesie'.2

    It later developed into the device that many people most often associate with poetry. Adopted by poets considered part of the classic Western Canon, the use of rhyme became almost compulsory for a group of words to be considered a poem. This is no longer the case.

    Since the early 19th century, poets like Gustave Kahn have experimented with removing set rhyme schemes and meters from their poetry. By the time the Modernist and Postmodernist movements had re-imagined the world of poetry, rhyme was not the poetic staple it had been.

    Modernism was a movement that is thought to have started in the late 19th century and lasted until the mid 20th century. A reaction against Victorian ideals, literary modernism featured themes of disillusionment. Characteristics such as stream of consciousness prose and free verse were defining elements of the movement.

    Postmodernism was a movement that rebelled against many of the tenets of Modernism. It is characterised by themes of deconstruction, fragmentation, and subjectivity.

    Although no longer ubiquitous, rhyme is still a common poetic device used in modern poetry. It can exist on a few levels in a poem. The structural, schematic level of rhyme can be seen in full poems. These are called rhyme schemes. Patterns of rhyme also exist at the stanza level, and at the line level. Within this structure or poetic form, different types of rhyme exist too. Let’s start with some schemes.

    Rhyme schemes and examples

    Rhyme schemes are set patterns of rhyming sounds. The rhyme scheme will determine the lines in which words rhyme, as well as how these are repeated or changed in a poem. Types of rhyme schemes vary by country and language, so we will take a look at a popular English language rhyme scheme.

    Rhyme schemes: sonnets

    Sonnets have a long and varied history, originating in Italy. It is thought that Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Spencer first introduced the sonnet form to the English language during the 16th century. William Shakespeare made a style of sonnet so famous that they are named after him, even though he didn’t invent the form.

    Although there are different styles of the sonnet, there are a few common characteristics that can be seen across all of them. Two of these common characteristics are relevant to rhyme schemes.

    14 lines

    All sonnets contain a total of 14 lines. How these 14 lines are constructed differs and spotting the rhyme pattern is a key to identifying the type of sonnet. Sonnets can contain various combinations of stanza lengths. Stanzas in sonnets can range from octaves (8 lines) to sestets (6 lines), quatrains (4 lines), and couplets (2 lines).

    Regular rhyme scheme

    All sonnets will have a regular rhyme scheme which means that each sonnet will follow a set pattern that remains consistent throughout the poem. Different types of sonnets will have their own rhyme schemes. You can see some examples below.

    Rhyme, depiction of sonnet rhyme schemes, StudySmarter

    Rhyme schemes differ across sonnet types.

    Can you see how regular rhyme schemes create a sense of predefined rhythm?

    Rhyme schemes: Petrarchan sonnets

    There are many types of sonnets that are linked to poets from Dante Alighieri to John Milton, each with its unique rhyme scheme. A famous example of the sonnet structure is the original Italian form of the Petrarchan sonnet.

    Petrarchan sonnet

    The Petrarchan sonnet is the oldest form of the sonnet. Split into two types of stanzas, the octave is always set to one rhyme scheme, ABBAABBA. In contrast, the sestet rhyme scheme is more flexible, with variations including CDECDE, CDCDCD and CDCDEE allowed.

    A well known English language Petrarchan sonnet is Sir Thomas Wyatt’s 'Whoso list to hunt' (1557). This poem is a reinterpretation of Petrarch's 'Sonnet 190' (unknown).

    In this poem, the rhyme scheme is ABBAABBA, with a variation in the sestet of CDDCEE.

    Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,

    But as for me, hélas, I may no more.

    The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,

    I am of them that farthest cometh behind.

    Yet may I by no means my wearied mind

    Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore

    Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,

    Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.

    Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,

    As well as I may spend his time in vain.

    And graven with diamonds in letters plain

    There is written, her fair neck round about:

    Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,

    And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.'

    Rhyme schemes: rhyming couplets

    Rhyming couplets are two lines that follow one after the other and quite obviously, rhyme. There are two types of rhyming couplets, closed and open. Open rhyming couplets have two lines that can be read as one single sentence. They are not broken up by any punctuation at the end of the first line. Closed rhyming couplets are read as two separate lines, broken up by punctuation and linked only by the rhyme.

    A modern example of a poem using closed rhyming couplets is Maya Angelou’s 'Harlem Hopscotch' (1971).

    One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.

    Good things for the ones that’s got.

    Another jump, now to the left.

    Everybody for hisself.

    In the air, now both feet down.

    Since you black, don’t stick around.

    Food is gone, the rent is due,

    Curse and cry and then jump two.

    All the people out of work,

    Hold for three, then twist and jerk.

    Cross the line, they count you out.

    That’s what hopping’s all about.

    Both feet flat, the game is done.

    They think I lost. I think I won.'

    Rhyme: three types of rhyme

    Now that we know about the structure of rhyme schemes, we can look at a few different types of rhyme that can be used within these schemes.

    Rhyme is usually based on sound and not spelling, but there are always exceptions to the rules of poetry. Types of rhyme are defined by how similar they sound, and where in a line of poetry they are placed.

    Eye rhyme

    The anomaly in the 'based on sound' trend, an eye rhyme is when two words visually rhyme but don't sound the same. An example would be the name of actor Sean Bean, or the words 'move' and 'love'.

    Internal rhyme

    Another outlier is internal rhyme. In this type of rhyme, a word in the middle of a line rhymes with a word at the end of a line. An example can be found in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' (1797 -1798) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

    Out of the sea came he!

    And he shone bright, and on the right.'

    Slant rhyme

    In contrast to perfect rhyme, a slant rhyme is a more subtle type of rhyme. In this case, words do not exactly rhyme. Perfect rhyme is seen in words like 'sight' and 'height', but the more subliminal slant rhyme is used in words like 'swarm' and 'worm' or 'but' and 'mat'. A poetic example is WB Yeats' 'Sailing to Byzantium' (1928).

    That is no country for old men. The young

    In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

    – Those dying generations – at their song,

    The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,

    Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long

    Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

    Caught in that sensual music all neglect

    Monuments of unageing intellect.”

    Rhyme - Key takeaways

    • Rhyme is both a literary and a poetic device.
    • While historically linked to poetry, since the early 19th century it has not been used as frequently or as rigidly.
    • Modernist and Postmodernist poets often discard rhyme.
    • Rhyme is when two words sound or occasionally look similar or the same. Rhyme schemes exist at a structural level across poems, stanzas, and lines.
    • There are various types of rhyme schemes in poems.
    • Similarly, there are a variety of types of rhyme in poetry, from perfect rhyme to eye rhyme and slant rhyme.

    1 Sidney J Baker, 'Australian Rhyming Argot in the American Underworld.' American Speech, 1944

    2 Thomas Campion, Observations in the Art of English (1602), Oxford University Press, 1904.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Rhyme

    What is an example of rhyme?

    An example of rhyme is a perfect rhyme. This can be seen in words like 'sight' and 'height'.

    What is a rhyme?

    There are different types of rhyme. Generally, rhyme is the use of words that often have the same or a very similar sound to create poetic effects.

    What is a rhyme scheme in a poem?

    A rhyme scheme is the structure that determines which lines in a poem will rhyme. These vary across types of poems. For example, a Shakespearean sonnet has the following rhyme scheme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.

    What are the 3 types of rhyme?

    Three key types of rhyme are perfect rhyme, Imperfect rhyme, and end rhyme.

    What is the most common type of rhyme?

    End rhyme is the most common type of rhyme in the English language.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    How many lines are there in an octave?

    Which type of rhyming couplet ends Maya Angelo's 'Harlem Hopscotch'. (1971).

    What sounds are repeated in assonance?

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