While rhyming is by no means the be-all and end-all of poetry, many writers and readers find well executed rhymes to be a pleasing quality in poetic writing. Yet, there are also huge, passionate groups who are adamant that rhyme is a limiting.
In schools and workshops around the country, we are shown simple rhymes as a building block towards writing great poetry; however we’re rarely shown the other ways rhyme can be used. This has led to an unjustified bias against rhyme.
Firstly, let us talk about how rhyme is used by inexperienced poets. A poet who is just starting out will often use monosyllabic end rhyme. This involved using short words with common syllables placed at the end of a line. Typically, these will also be perfect rhymes, duplicating the letters used in the rhyme and mimicking the same stresses, such as ‘sat,’ ‘cat,’ ‘bat,’ ‘flat,’ or ‘kite,’ ‘might,’ ‘write,’ ‘height.’
A more advanced version of this technique would use imperfect rhymes where part of the syllable is similar and necessitates an unnatural stress. Many of us are familiar with examples in works such as ‘This Little Piggy,’ where ‘home’ and ‘none’ are stressed in order to rhyme. Sometimes, this is referred to as lazy rhyming, although it can be used to create more exciting rhyming structures throughout a piece and can stimulate the imagination. This often occurs in rap to create chains of rhyme within a work. If we look at the iconic ‘NY State of Mind’ by Nas, we see ‘dangerous,’ ‘prosperous,’ ‘could just,’ and ‘hostages,’ all made to rhyme with innovative stresses and delivery.
These rhymes can become polyrhythmic and made of longer, more complex words. This gives pieces a smoother texture when used properly, as the rhythms and stresses occur more akin to normal speech, instead of focusing on stressing the rhyme or breaking flow to highlight it.
As a poet continues their journey, we may see the use of internal rhymes, where the couplet does not fall at the end of the lines but rather within a line itself. In Edgar Allen Poe’s famous The Raven, we see an example of internal rhyme across two lines, with ‘napping’ and ‘tapping’ both occurring in one line and ‘rapping’ repeated with a pause in the following line. Poe goes on to reuse these words throughout the stanza. This creates a wonderful choppy flow which can be manipulated by placing the rhymes in different parts of the line. In Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall,’ we see the use of a very tight internal rhyme in ‘dark sarcasm,’ with a further imperfect rhyme echoed in ‘classroom.’
Mastering internal rhymes is important in one’s development as it allows a writer to control the line by placing the rhyme exactly where they need it, making changes to flow and rhythm to pull the image and the line length closer together. This is especially handy when using assonance, consonance, or pararhyme.
Assonance is a technique where multiple repetitions of the same vowel sound are stacked closed together. This functions to create micro-pauses after the stress of the vowel. It almost sounds like waves when a certain density is achieved.
Consonance is much the same as assonance, though it uses consonants instead of vowels. It is common in tongue twisters and is a spectacle to perform.
Pararhyme can be considered a more challenging form of consonance, as it involves all the consonants of a word repeating, such as ‘tell’ and ‘tall.’
Once these three rhyming concepts have been understood, the poet can move into off-centred rhyme as a natural extension of internal rhyme. The poet is no longer bound by constrictions as to where rhymes fall; instead they are free to chop lines and create original structures throughout their work.
This is not a comprehensive list of rhyming techniques, and indeed it is not a universal developmental plan for a poet. Instead, this is a coherent system to develop techniques to ascend from a beginner to a fully-fledged poet. It is entirely possible to make great work without using rhyme, or to only use end rhyme, however as poets and artists, it seems foolish to neglect techniques and tools available to us.
© 2019 Connor Sansby
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.