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Perhaps the first idea that students grasp about poetry is that rhyme is very important. Indeed it takes many years to shake off the idea that a poem must rhyme. From your studies you will know that this is not the case.
Good poets use rhyme for a specific purpose and in very different ways. Below you will see some of the different types of rhyme that are used as well as questions to help you focus on a poet's intentions regarding rhyme.
- Does the poet use rhyme? Why? Why not?
- What effect does this use or absence of rhyme have?
is repetition of first letters/sounds in words in order to create an effect, for example: "[u]s[/u]low [u]s[/u]oft touch of [u]s[/u]pring".
- Is alliteration used in place of or in addition to rhyme?
- What effect does this have to the way the poem sounds?
- Which words are used in alliteration?
is repetition of a particular vowel sound in words close to each other.
is repetition of a particular consonant sound in words close to each other.
For poems containing alliteration, assonance or consonance, consider the following:
- Are the sounds hard or soft, long or short?
- How does this link with the meaning of the words or mood of the poem?
- Does the poet emphasise particular sounds to create a certain effect?
is when part of two or more words rhyme. For example met[u]er[/u] and weath[u]er[/u] or ca[u]sh[/u] and ko[u]sh[/u].
Half rhyme is often used in poems with a rhyme scheme. It can prevent a rhyme scheme from sounding too forced.
When all of the words rhyme. For example m[u]eter[/u] and h[u]eater[/u] or ca[u]sh[/u] and fla[u]sh[/u].
Poets use rhyme in different ways. Some poets follow a definite rhyme scheme in their poetry. This means that they use a pattern. For example, they may have a poem with four line stanzas (quatrains).
The first and third line of each stanza may rhyme and the second and fourth rhyme. This rhyme scheme would be called abab.
Sometimes poets keep the same rhyming sound throughout a poem. More often, they follow the same pattern but change the sound.
For example, the first stanza may be abab but the second stanza uses different sounds and is cdcd. When reading a poem in an exam it is worth marking the rhyme scheme at the side to help you see the pattern.
A common mistake in exams is that students highlight the rhyme scheme, but do not explain the effect of the rhyme. You must say what effect the rhyme has on the audience.
Is rhyme used simply to attract the attention of the listener or does the poet want to draw attention to specific words?
A rhyming couplet is a pair of lines which 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.
Do not be fooled into thinking that a poet only ever uses rhyme because it sounds nice. Look carefully at the words which rhyme.
- Has the poet chosen key words to rhyme thus drawing attention to the words? Does the poet put rhyme in the middle of a sentence so that its purpose is to make the poem flow?
- Are there lines which rhyme alongside those which don't? Why? Is there an irregular rhyme scheme?
Make sure that you do this whenever writing about rhyme. Never just say what the rhyme scheme is - always explain how it works and its effect.