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There is more debate over rhyme in poetry than there is over rhythm in poetry. Opinions run from "If it doesn't rhyme it isn't poetry!" to "If it rhymes it's doggerel - not poetry!"

We aren't going to settle that debate in this exercise. We aren't even going to get into it. What we are going to do is

1) Introduce you to the technical terms for different kinds of rhyme, so you can understand any learned debates you happen to tune into;

2) Show you some of the uses of rhyme, so that you can catch poets using it and report on them accurately;

3) Get you hearing echoes of everything, pairing words together, and making patterns of sound and rhyme yourself. If you start driving your family berserk, we disclaim all responsibility.

"Rhyme" means "a pattern of repeated sounds". Variations in rhyme are differences in the types of sound, and in the pattern, or position.


Words rhyme if the last stressed vowel and the sounds that follow it match (as in "afar" and "bizarre," "biology" and "ideology," or "computer" and "commuter").

"Perfect rhyme" is an exact match between the vowel and the final consonant, as in "Ars Poetica" by Archibald MacLeish:

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit

As old medallions to the thumb

"Partial rhyme" is "close enough for poetic license":

Then say not Man's imperfect, Heaven in fault;
Say rather, Man's as perfect as he ought....
(Pope, "An Essay on Man")

This is also called "near rhyme", "off rhyme" and "hey, that's not a rhyme, you blew it there".

"Eye rhyme" is a rhyme that does not exist in sound at all, but only in sight:

I know it's tough
To have a cough

is both a near rhyme and an eye rhyme.

"Half rhyme" is a match between final consonants, but a miss on the vowels.

This computer and its bits
Is about to drive me bats.

"Masculine rhyme" is one-syllable rhyme: "near" and "clear", "loud" and "proud".

"Feminine rhyme" is a rhyme of more than one syllable, both stressed and unstressed: "creature" and "feature", "cooking" and "looking".


"End-rhyme" is the most accustomed pattern: words at the end of successive lines which rhyme with each other:
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other milk.
(Ogden Nash)

There are different patterns of which lines rhyme with which, like cross-rhyme, sonnet patterns, etc. We'll get into those later under "forms". For right now, the only technical word we'll introduce is "couplet". Two lines that rhyme, like Ogden Nash's, are called a "rhyming couplet".

"Internal rhyme" is the echo of words within a line: "The sails at noon left off their tune". (Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner")

Internal rhyme may be varied by rhyming the first or last word of a line with a word inside the next line.

Softly, let the measure break
Till the dancers wake, and rise...
(from "Harp Music" by Rolfe Humphries, in GREEN ARMOR ON GREEN GROUND)

Welsh poetry makes extensive use of internal rhyme (and other patterns of repeated sounds that we will get into in the next Primer). Even the Welsh admire the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and if you would like to study more internal rhyme, try him, especially the poem "Inversnaid".

Have you had enough for now? Time to reverse the flow --

Exercise: Rhyme

Step 1 (Easy): (Subject Header: Rhyme:1)

Write a rhyming couplet demonstrating:
Perfect rhyme:
Near rhyme:
Eye rhyme:
Half rhyme:
Masculine rhyme:
Feminine rhyme:
End rhyme:
Internal rhyme:

Guidelines for critique:

1) Is the rhyme used actually the rhyme form described?

Step 2: (More difficult) (Subject Header: Rhyme:2)

Write a poem of at least eight lines combining at least four of the kinds of rhyme described in this lesson.

Guidelines for critique:

1) Does the rhyme seem unforced? Does the word chosen fit in all other senses, rather than just rhyming?

2) How does the pattern of sound contribute to the sense and feeling of the poem? Or detract from it?

Step 3: (Challenge) (Subject Header: Rhyme:3)

Find a kind of rhyme I haven't covered here. Demonstrate it in a poem.

Guidelines for critique:

1) Is it really a new kind of rhyme? If not, what kind of rhyme is it?

2) Is it used well?

You may of course critique on all other aspects of any poem, but please be sure to include the above points.

Write On!