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I. Rhyme and Rhyme-Related Figures

I.1. Rhyme

1. The definition of rhyme

2. The basic types of rhyme: masculine and feminine

3. The position and function of rhyme


I.2. Assonance


I.3. Consonance


I.4. Alliteration


I.5. Eye-rhyme

I.6. Enjambment

I.7. Rhyme-schemes, stanza patterns

1. Rhyme-schemes

2. Stanza patterns

3. The function of rhyme schemes and stanza patterns


II. Verse, Versification

II.1. Accentual Syllabic Verse (Metre, Metrics)

1. The definition of metre and of accentual syllabic verse

2. Feet and lines in accentual syllabic verse

3. A few hints on scansion

4. The function of metrics, the use of scansion


II.2. Combinations of accentual syllabic verse and rhyme patterns


II.3. Accentual verse


II.4. Free verse

III. Poetic Forms and Genres

IV. Exercises

V. Links

I. Rhyme and Rhyme-Related Figures

I.1. Rhyme

1. The definition of rhyme

Perhaps the most obvious figure (recurring pattern) of sound in poetry is rhyme. Rhyme is the repetition of the last stressed vowel sound and all the sounds that follow it in two or more words (e.g. earth – birth – worth, treasure – pleasure – leisure). It is very important that you clearly understand every element of this definition, because once you get this right, all the other rhyme-related figures (assonance, consonance, alliteration etc.) will be easy to understand. The most important elements are highlighted below with some examples:

the last stressed vowel sound: note that in English the stress does not necessarily fall on the first syllable of a word (like in Hungarian). Words that have a different number of syllables can therefore easily rhyme in English:

I know that I shall meet my fate

Somewhere among the clouds above;

Those that I fight I do not hate,

Those that I guard I do not love;

The words above – love rhyme in this example although above consists of two syllables while love is monosyllabic. This can happen because in a rhyme all that matters is that the last stressed vowel sounds and what comes after them should match. What comes before the last stressed vowel is not included in the rhyme. As the word above has the stress on the second syllable, it can rhyme with love. What is included in the rhyme is thus only what is italicised here: above and love. Note that the consonants preceding the last stressed vowel do not count either: what is included in the rhyme is not the last stressed syllable, just the last stressed vowel and what comes after it. If you are uncertain about where the stress falls in a word, consult a dictionary or ask your teacher.

the last stressed vowel sound: rhyme is a repetition of sounds, not of letters. Two words might therefore rhyme even if the last stressed vowel and what comes after it are spelt differently as long as they have the same pronunciation:

I met a little cottage girl,

She was eight years old, she said;

Her hair was thick with many a curl

That cluster’d round her head.

The words girl – curl and the words said – head rhyme even if they are spelt differently because the last stressed vowel and the sounds that follow it are pronounced alike.

Contrast this with the pair of words food–flood where the spelling of the last stressed vowel and what comes after it is the same but the pronunciation is different; so these two words do not form a rhyme.

For a Hungarian student of English poetry it is not always easy to identify the pronunciation of a word on the basis of the spelling. If you are in doubt the best thing you can do is consult a dictionary where the phonetic symbols will unambiguously identify the correct pronunciation of a word. In the case of the examples above you will find in your dictionary the following phonetic symbols:

said /sed/ – head /hed/

girl /gз:l/  – curl /kз:l/ where the last stressed vowel and the following sounds are the same; and

food /fu:d/ – flood /fld/ where the last stressed vowel is apparently different.

If you are uncertain about the pronunciation of a word in an exam situation, do not try to guess, ask your teacher.

all the sounds that follow: everything after the last stressed vowel (including consonant and vowel sounds) must be the same in the two rhyming words. If there is a difference in a single consonant we can no longer speak of a rhyme, the two words will only be in assonance. E.g. the words saidhead form a rhyme, but the words said –set do not!


2. The basic types of rhyme: masculine and feminine

We can distinguish between two basic types of rhyme, masculine and feminine rhymes. In a masculine rhyme the last stressed vowel sound is in the last syllable of the rhyming words (e.g. said – head, extol – enrol, grey – today); while a feminine rhyme includes an unstressed syllable after the last stressed vowel sound (e.g. gaily – daily, daughter – water). In the following stanza you can find an example for both feminine and masculine rhymes:

When we two parted

In silence and tears,

Half broken-hearted

To sever for years

parted – hearted: feminine rhyme

tears – years: masculine rhyme

In English poetry feminine rhymes are less frequent than masculine rhymes and they tend to have a playful effect. Even more rarely do rhymes include three or more syllables and if they do, the effect is invariably comic (NB. this is not the case in Hungarian poetry!).

Look at how Robert Browning uses feminine and three-syllable rhymes in his funny description of a corpulent and empty-headed mayor:

With the Corporation as he sat,

Looking little though wondrous fat;

Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister

Than a too-long-opened oyster,

Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous

For a plate of turtle green and glutinous

See some further funny rhymes from Byron’s Don Juan.


3. The position and function of rhyme

Rhyming words usually appear at the end of the line (end-rhyme), but they can appear within the line, as well (internal rhyme). The most obvious and basic function of rhymes is to create a pleasing sound effect. The regular recurrence of sounds is always a source of pleasure for the ear. In addition, the choice of the sounds repeated in the rhymes can contribute to creating the tone and mood of the poem.

Look at how the internal rhymes function in Robert Browning’s ‘Marching Along’ and in Percy Shelley’s ‘The Cloud’. Whereas in the first case the short masculine rhymes create the effect of a military march, in the second the often feminine internal rhymes give a feeling of playful lightness and ease. See the poems.

Besides its contribution to tone and mood, rhyme also functions as an important structural device. The recurrence of sounds creates rhythm and this rhythm breaks down the flow of language in the poem to units. The most basic unit of poetry is the line and indeed the most obvious device to mark line-endings is rhyme. If you listen to a poem that uses rhymes you will easily be able to determine where the lines of the poem end even if you do not look at the printed form of the text just by perceiving the recurrence of certain sounds at the end of the lines. Rhyme, however, is not only used to divide lines but also to connect some of them together. Lines ending in rhyming words naturally belong together and thus rhymes can be used to create different patterns of lines (couplets, stanzas etc.), this way forming larger units in the poem.

Another function of rhymes is to highlight certain meanings. Words in rhyme position are naturally more emphatic than words within the line and thus rhyme is an important tool in the hands of the poet to draw attention to certain key words in the poem or to create associations between words appearing in rhyme position.

Look at how in William Wordsworth’s ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’ the rhyming words ‘fair’, ‘wear’, ‘bare’, ‘air’ highlight and explain the fundamental paradox upon which the whole poem is based and how ‘steep’, ‘deep’ and ‘asleep’ belong together. See the poem with sample analysis.