tagHow ToHow to Rhyme

How to Rhyme


Of all the devices used by poets to add impact, emphasis or emotion to their words, rhyme seems to be the most popular and also the most mishandled. Nothing can destroy a poem for a reader quicker than poorly handled rhyme. While rhyme can add a certain dignity or classical beauty to a poet's words, it often times can make the most dynamic and powerful verse seem trite. Poorly worked rhyme can overpower a poem, drawing attention away from more lyrical or well worded verse, while properly handled the rhyme can become a subtle chime enhancing the rhythm and lyrical content of the verse.

Any rhyme should have a natural feel, as if it is simply part of natural speech. Too often rhyme is forced or unnatural as a poet extends a line as they desperately search for a word to complete a rhyme. Another mistake is reordering the natural language to push a rhyme into position, a style I've heard one poet call "Yoda-speak," the quasi-zen speech pattern of the grand Jedi knight of Star Wars fame. While this may sound philosophical for a pointy-eared green man from a far off planet, it simply weakens even the best of poems.

Another thing to avoid is using Trite rhyme, the rhyming of words overused for rhymes. Joyce Kilmer's "Trees" is an example of a poem using trite rhyme (tree, see, etc). While, depending on the context of the rhyming words, some of these words can be used in original ways, a poet should be very careful in their use.

While most of us are familiar with the rhyme found at the ends of lines, called end rhyme, there are various kinds of rhyme named for they way words rhyme and for the location where the rhymes are found within the lines. True rhyme refers to "...the identical sound, in two or more words, of an accented vowel (o' – o' – o') as well as of all the sounds following that vowel ('one – 'oan – 'own), while the consonantal sounds immediately preceeding the vowel differ in each word (bone – loan – shown)." (1)

Internal rhyme is where the ending of a line rhymes with a word in the center of the same line. "Where once I had a Bill to drive back my chill (X.J. Kennedy).

Linked rhyme rhymes the last syllable or syllables of a line with the first syllable or syllables of the following line. "The bell is heard, and the song is sung / flung upon the morning air." (1). Similar to the linked rhyme, the cross rhyme is when the ending of a line rhymes with a sound at the center of a line preceding or following the line. "The bell is heard, the song is sung; / The sound is flung on the morning air. (1). Head rhyme will rhyme the beginnings of one line to the beginnings of the next line. "Sung is the song of the ringing bell / Flung upon the morning air." (1)

Rhymes can be created at times. For instance: apocopated rhyme will drop one or more syllables from a word to rhyme with another, morning shortens to morn- to rhyme with born. Enjambed rhyme will use the first consonant of the following line to complete the rhyme sound: "He found the stair and he / descended to find the seed. (1)

Single rhymes are one syllable rhymes (torn – shorn); double rhymes are two syllable rhymes (winning – sinning) and triple rhymes are rhymes over three syllables.

In an effort to minimize the monotony of the overuse of true rhyme there are other types of rhyme to consider. "Rich rhyme (rime riche, false rhyme) has identical sound in the consonants immediately preceding the accented vowel as well in the sounds following it (cyst – persist – insist)." (1) Consonance or slant rhyme, off rhyme and near-rhyme substitutes similar sound for identical sound (bridge – wedge – gouge – page). This rhyme assumes all vowel sounds are interchangeable. Some very interesting sound combinations using this type of rhyme can add originality and interest to a poem that true rhyme can lose.

Sight rhyme are words where portions of the word are spelled alike, but are not pronounced the same (eight – sleight, lies – homilies) Historic rhyme will take different pronunciations of words from historical times and rhyme them with a word (again – pain, again – when).

Of course, fans of Ogden Nash have learned another type of rhyme, wrenched rhyme

The Rhinoceros

The rhino is a homely beast
For human eyes he's not a feast
Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I'll stare at something less prepoceros.

                 Ogden Nash

There are still more poetic devices to help poets keep their rhyme in line, but they can get cumbersome and complicated, so I'll not get into those at this time. I do believe that any poet wanting to work with rhyme or rhyming forms should familiarize themselves with they types and variations of rhyme available to them. Rhyme can be a subtle and beautiful thing in poetry or it can get very ugly very fast. Think about what you are doing to the sound of the poem, read it out loud to yourself, if it looks like it will sound goofy and then if it does sound goofy, it probably is goofy and needs more work. Hopefully next time your poem will rhyme just fine.




1. Turco, Lewis The New Book of Forms, A Handbook of Poetics University Press of New England 1986.

2. Finch, Annie ed. & Varnes, Katherine ed. An Exaltation of Forms, Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor 2002.

3. Nash, Ogden, Finamore, Roy ed., Odgen Nash's Zoo Stewart, Tabori & Chang, New York 1987.

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