In poetry, there are three main forms which you need to consider when discussing rhythm:
- blank verse
- syllabic verse
- free verse
Blank verse is a form of poetry most famously associated with the writing of Shakespeare. It uses an iambic pentameter but does not use rhyme.
Lines in syllabic verse follow a strict syllable pattern. When you read a poem, count the number of syllables in each line.
- Do you notice a pattern?
- What effect does this create?
Free verse is a modern form of poetry where there are no rules regarding the structure or syllable count of the poems. This doesn't mean there is no rhythm, just that it doesn't follow a formal structure.
A rhyming couplet is a pair of lines that rhyme. Writing in a series of rhyming couplets creates a definite rhythm to the poem. Also, single ideas are often contained within the couplet.
Sometimes poets use a couplet to conclude a poem or to stand out from the rest of the poem.
Often rhyming couplets will be lines of equal length in order to add to the sense of rhythm.
If a poet breaks the rule of the number of syllables in a line, do not assume that it is poor poetry or a mistake.
- Has the poet used a longer or shorter line and break in the rhythm in order to draw attention to that line?
A common technique is the use of repetition in poetry. A poet may repeat a particular phrase.
- Why is that phrase being repeated?
- How does it relate to the overall theme of the poem?
- Is the phrase altered in anyway?
- Is the phrase a question or memory?
- Does the repetition contribute to the rhythm?
The length of lines in a poem can be a big clue in understanding a poem.
- Are all the lines of equal length?
- If not, then which lines stand out, either as being long or short?
- Does the poet draw attention to certain words because of the layout of the lines?
- What effect does the line length have on the way you read the poem? If the poem is entirely made of short lines then do you read the poem quickly?
- Has the poet put a single word or phrase on a separate line? Why? What does this suggest to the reader?
- How is rhythm used to create a sense of energy, loss, pain, calm?
- How does the rhythm of the poem reflect the mood or ideas of the poem?
- Are specific sounds used, such as onomatopoeia?