So here we are in Poetry Month once again and Ruth is busy doing a series on the senses, so I thought I’d marry up with that and write a poetry-based blog that speaks to last week’s blog, Can you Hear Me? Specifically I thought I’d speak to the often heard comment: “Why doesn’t poetry rhyme anymore?”
When someone says that, they are usually referencing the kind of recognizable rhyme we think of associated with Hallmark verse or Robert William Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee. [no disparaging here, just identification]. Of course, the debate over the merits of “traditional rhyming verse” versus “free verse” continues with no resolution in sight, but given the myriad aspects associated with poetry, it’s interesting that that debate usually centers around rhyme or the lack thereof.
The truth is, free verse is alive with rhyme. All kinds of different rhyme. Let’s take a look.
Rhyme is based on an identity of sound between words or verse-lines, “sound echoes” if you will. Traditional verse relies largely on end rhyme or external rhyme – placing rhyming words at the end of a line:
Lets take the first few lines of Robert Frost‘s famous poem, “Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.”
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.
In traditional verse forms, the end rhyme is usually organized into rhyme schemes. The rhyme scheme in excerpt above is ababcdcd.
Anything but end rhyme…
Now compare that with these lines from a “free verse” poem, “The Anniversary”, by American poet Ai:
…I’m not afraid of the blade
you’ve just pointed at my head.
If I were dead, you could take the boy, ….
There are no end rhymes here, but there is plenty of rhyme nonetheless. In the first line we see an example (afraid; blade) of internal rhyme – rhyme that occurs within a verse line. As in a lot of free verse, rhyme also occurs from line to line, just not necessarily at the end. (head/dead).
Rhyme, rhyme rhyme….
These are perfect, strict, full, or pure rhymes– the last fully accentuated vowel and end consonant are identical. Be aware that we are talking sound here, not spelling. – cat/hat; tree/bee; fool/mule; tough/huff.
Perfect rhyme can be further divided: masculine rhyme, where one final stressed syllable rhymes (sang/rang), and feminine rhyme, where at least two syllables rhyme and the final syllable is not stressed (mo-ther/bro-ther; com-par-i-son/gar-ri-son).
Additionally, Ai’s poem contains slant rhyme (also known as off rhyme, near rhyme, imperfect rhyme or half rhyme) – words whose sounds are closely related but not identical. If the poet plays with consonants at the beginning of words, that’s alliteration; at the end of words, it is called consonance. If the poet plays with similar vowel sounds, it is known as assonance. Blade and head at the end of the first and second lines have the same end consonant sound, although they have different vowel sounds. Other slant rhymes would be bend/hand; home/same; trophy/daffy; fellow/fallow; kind/conned.
Rhyming choices don’t end there. Eye rhyme, for instance, plays with sight, not sound: two words that look like they ought to rhyme, but don’t. (love/move; lull/full; though/cough).
Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, “We Real Cool”, is chock full of rhyme and other sonic devices:
I’m sure you’ve already found internal rhyme (thin/gin); and slant rhyme (real/cool). There’s also assonance (sing/sin), alliteration (lurk/late), and consonance (real/cool) and repetition (We). This piece also has para rhyme, or rich consonance, that uses consonant blends and the order of consonants to create sound echoes. (left/late; strike/straight; jazz/die-s).
Conventional verse was primarily rooted in the oral tradition, and rhyme helped us remember the lines. Free verse is largely a written medium, appreciated visually as well as through sound.
Rhyme creates emphasis and structural unity, and draws attention to the relationship between words and thoughts. In Brook’s poem, notice how the absence of repetition (We) in the last line emphasizes the thought that their lives will be truncated too. Good rhyme goes beyond the obvious.
I love rhyme, but end rhyme is my least favourite. In many ways I prefer to discover the patterns and links as I read. When used effectively, I believe rhyme adds to the sensory impact of poetry by creating a pleasing network of related “sound echoes”.