Today is the final post in the series of eight tips on writing poetry. I hope you’ve found them helpful. As I’ve said before, there are a lot of good books out there that go into far more detail. This series is mean only as quick references and reminders.
POETRY TIP # 8: RHYME
It is rare for verse not to contain rhyme or variations of rhyme. Skillful placement of sounds (color sounds) helps hold the reader’s attention and makes the lines more memorable. There are four main categories to consider: RHYME, ALLITERATION, CONSONANCE, and ASSONANCE.
RHYME (True Rhyme, Full Rhyme) occurs when two words begin with different consonants followed by the same sound:
Rhyme is hard to miss. Political slogans, signboards, commercials, jingles, songs, greeting cards, and poetry employ rhyme for a good reason: We tend to remember lines that rhyme.
Can you close your eyes and repeat the first line on this page? Not likely. To remember prose we have to memorize it on purpose and read it a number of times before it sticks.
“It is rare for verse not to contain rhyme or variations of rhyme.”
That sentence is pure prose. Nothing very memorable about it. But with a little finagling I can rewrite it into eight beats of mostly iambic meter. Then I can break it into an unrhymed couplet (distich).
“With rare exceptions verse contains
rhyme or variations of rhyme.”
That helps. The fact that the statement is now told in meter is a strong aid to our ability to recall it later and perhaps pass it on to someone else. That, of course, was a primary function of early poetry, which was sometimes sung accompanied by a musical instrument to both entertain and inform listeners.
But the best solution, the truest mnemonic, is to recast the distich into a couplet, that is, end both lines with the same sound.
“A verse without a rhyme is rare,
some kind of rhyme is usually there.”
ALLITERATION is sometimes used broadly to mean any poetic devise that echoes sounds within a poem. It can refer to the repetition of initial consonant sounds close enough together that we’re aware of them.
“Billy bounced his ball into a bucket.”
“A sack of seven serpents escaped.”
A more formal definition of ALLITERATION can be stated:
1) The consonants just before the first accented vowels are the same: SWeep/SWallow;
2) The vowels are not pronounced alike: (swEEp/swAllow);
3) The consonants that follow the vowels are different: sweeP/swaLLow.
CONSONANCE is like alliteration except that the consonants both before and after the dissimilar vowel sounds are the same.
ASSONANCE refers to the use of similar sounding vowels sandwiched between dissimilar consonants.
Here’s a poem of mine from EASY POETRY LESSONS THAT DAZZLE AND DELIGHT (Scholastic, 1999) that relies on assonance, consonance, and rhyme to sustain my desired mood and lyric quality.
FIRST BIRD OF SPRING
You’ve seen so much
since you’ve been away,
sing me a song.
Sing of the mountains
you crossed last fall
through starry nights
and blazing dawns,
Of rivers, bayous,
Sing of lightning,
ships at anchor,
You’ve seen so much
it will take all spring.
Sing me a song.
ASSONANCE AND CONSANANCE together are sometimes referred to as near rhyme, slant rhyme, oblique rhyme, off rhyme, or half rhyme.