Reading Poetry: Rhyme

I don’t like poetry that rhymes. Maybe that is a little too general. I don’t like most poetry that rhymes. I’m not sure why. Probably because all the boring poetry I was exposed to in high school was a snooze and most of it rhymed. Despite my aversion to rhyme, it is an important concept in poetry and is probably what most people think of when they think of poetry.

Rhyme is when the last syllable in two or more words sounds the same. In poetry, there are a few different ways that rhyme is used. 

Eye rhyme is what happens when two words look on the page like they should rhyme but when they are spoken they don’t. Like the words ‘above’ and ‘move.’

End rhyme is the most common type of rhyme and probably the one we have encountered the most. It happens when two lines of poetry end with rhyming words. When we see end rhyme it can be categorized as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine.’ 

Which I think needs a little unpacking. Words are not gendered in English, but we know that folks just love to assert a gender binary in places where it literally doesn’t matter. I choose to think of this concept as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ rhyme because that describes the sound of this rhyme. But just know that these concepts are usually described as masculine and feminine. Just not in this house. 

So whether something is hard or soft rhyme depends on syllables and how they are stressed in the line of poetry. For example, hard rhyme just means that the words that rhyme do so on the stressed syllable ‘cat,’ and, ‘hat.’ Or, ‘tall,’ and, ‘hall.’   

Soft rhyme is when the rhyming word doesn’t end in a stressed syllable. Like, ‘dicing.’ and ‘enticing,’ the -ing is not stressed. 

Internal rhyme is when the rhyming words are within the line of poetry but not at the end. The rhyme could be within one line like, ‘once upon a midnight dreary, while I wondered, weak and weary,’ or it could be in the center of two lines once after another or a word in the middle of a line that rhymes with the last word in the line preceding. 

Monorhyme is when every line in a poem or stanza, which is like a paragraph, contains words that all rhyme with each other. Think mono as in only one kind of rhyme. Say your first line of poetry ends with the word ‘bought.’ each following line could end with the words, ‘taught,’ or, ‘saught,’ or, ‘caught.’ Sometimes there will be monorhyme in the middle of a line of poetry, for example, the lines: 

She bought her friend a gift

She taught herself to sew. 

The rhyme is the same, it’s just in the middle this time. 

Pararhyme is a half-rhyme that happens when the vowel sounds in a word change but the consonant sounds stay the same. For example the words ‘hell’ and ‘hall’ or ‘lover’ and ‘liver.’ A great example of pararhyme is this poem.  

So with all the possible ways to rhyme it is no wonder that it is a popular technique in poetry. I mentioned it isn’t my favorite and I think it is important to mention that one of my reasons for not liking it is because it is really hard to do well. I don’t use much rhyme in my poetry because it is too hard. Poets who use rhyme are showing us the beauty of language. Maybe I’ll give it another chance someday. 

Here are some examples of rhyming poems that don’t suck:

A Small Hotel by Selima Hill 

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

I am Offering This Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca

The Soul has Bandaged moments by Emily Dickinson

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Digging by Seamus Heaney

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator by Anne Sexton