What Is Rhyme?

If rhythm is the cadence, or beat, rhyme is the melody. Most songs and many poems employ regular rhyme schemes, the purpose of which is to create a musical sound that is both melodious and unified in tone and theme.

In order to understand why rhyme is such an important feature of poetry, one has to understand the history of literature. A thousand years ago, people were mostly illiterate. The few scholars in medieval Europe who could read and write were clerics, whose task it was to copy and inscribe religious texts for posterity. Epic tales of love and battle, on the other hand, were a part of mass culture handed down from generation to generation by bards and minstrels.

Because rhyme made these tales easier to memorize, all forms of creative writing — even narrative writing — employs a rhyme scheme. Not until the beginning of the industrial era and the invention of movable typeface does prose come to dominate literature in the form of tales and novels. With the establishment of free verse in the nineteenth century, literature moves even further away from using rhyme. Nevertheless, it is still an important vehicle to add richness and beauty to writing.

How Do You Identify Rhyme in Writing?

There are different types of rhyme. The most well known are end rhymes, where words with the same vowel and consonant sound end a line of poetry. Rhyme schemes are when the rhyming words form a distinct pattern, such as ABBA, ABBA, CDCDCD, the rhyme scheme of the Italian sonnet.

  • Some rhymes are full, like “black” and “hack.”
  • There are also less complete rhymes. “Black” and “hock,” for instance might be paired in a rhyme scheme even though they are only half-rhymes (sometimes called “slant rhymes,” words that have like consonant sounds but different vowel sounds.
  • Internal rhymes are another way poets add music and an even tighter unity to their work. And internal rhyme is when two words inside the lines rhyme. They may be combined with end rhymes or simply exist on their own.

Examples of Rhyme, Half-Rhyme, and Internal Rhyme in Writing

Rhyme Example 1. “And now he slowly rises up/over trees and snow./He begins to grow more thin, and then/vanished in air!” — John Logan’s poem, “White Pass Ski Patrol” contains two half-rhymes, “begins” and “thin,” and “thin” and “then.” It is also an example of an internal rhyme.

Rhyme Example 2. “But they pulled me out of the sack,/And they stuck me together with glue./And then I knew what to do./I made a model of you.” — Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” contains powerful end rhymes.

Rhyme Example 3. “Hickory, dickory, dock./The mouse ran up the clock.” — Children’s nursery rhymes, like this one, rely on strong rhymes so that children can remember them.

Rhyme Example 4.   This latest Leisure equal lulls
The Beggar and his Queen
Propitiate this Democrat
A Summer’s Afternoon.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Not Any Higher Stands the Grave,” she uses slant rhyme (“Queen” and “Afternoon”).

Rhyme Example 5. Below is Shakespeare’s sonnet #41, which illustrates the rhyme scheme of the Shakespearean, or British, sonnet: ABAB,CDCD, EFEF, GG:

“Those pretty wrongs that liberty commits,
When I am sometime absent from thy heart,
Thy beauty, and thy years full well befits,
For still temptation follows where thou art.
Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won,
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed.
And when a woman woos, what woman’s son,
Will sourly leave her till he have prevailed?
Ay me, but yet thou mightst my seat forbear,
And chide thy beauty, and thy straying youth,
Who lead thee in their riot even there
Where thou art forced to break a twofold truth:
Hers by thy beauty tempting her to thee,
Thine by thy beauty being false to me.”

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