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Posted by on Feb 22, 2015 in Writing Poetry | 0 comments

Writing Poetry: Getting Rhyme and Rhythm Right

Here’s a quiz question:

If you’re writing a poem, how many of these lines rhyme properly with line 1?

  1. I walked along the road today
  1. The day was bright and sunny
  2. And saw a rabbit hopping away
  3. And had a drink at a café
  4. It was a warm and sunny day
  5. And noticed that I’d lost my way

 

Scroll down to see the answer when you’re ready!

 

 

 

 

How many did you find? It’s not as easy as it looks!

  1. Definitely wrong. ‘Sunny’ doesn’t rhyme with ‘day’.
  2. Rhymes, but the rhythm of the line is wrong, because there’s an extra syllable there. You’d need to change ‘hopping’ to ‘hop’ to make the rhythm flow properly.
  3. The worst line of all. Although ‘café and ‘day’ both end with the sound ‘ay’, the word ‘café’ has the stress on its first syllable – CAF-ay, but if you were reading this aloud, you”d end up saying ‘And HAD a DRINK at A caf-AY’ to keep the rhythm the same as line 1, which sounds peculiar.
  4. Well… it DOES rhyme, and the rhythm’s OK, but rhyming ‘day’ at the end of ‘today’ and ‘day’ on its own is… kinda cheating. You might want to use it further down in the poem instead of as the next line.
  5. The best one. The rhyme is right, the rhythm of the line is right and it sounds reasonably natural.

 

So, how do you get the rhythm right?

To get the rhythm the same in matching lines, you need to understand syllables. These are the way words break into sound chunks – for example, un-der-stand has three syllables, far-mer has two.

You also need to understand stresses – the stronger and weaker syllables in a word. For example, UN-der-STAND has two stresses and FAR-mer has one. Some words may not have a stress at all. When you know how the line should end, you put the rhythm in first and find the right words to fit:

She WALKED a-LONG the ROAD that NIGHT

And SAW a SOME-thing SOME-thing -IGHT.

 

What are rhyme schemes?

Rhyming pairs of lines, arranged one after the other, are called ‘rhyming couplets’, even if they don’t share the same rhythm:

There was a frog    A

Who sat on a log    A

He saw a fish    B

And made a wish    B

Then along came a cat    C

Who squashed him flat!   C

Well… it’s not exactly Shakespeare, but you get the idea! Each rhyming end in a poem can be given a letter, so the two which are marked A rhyme with each other, the two Bs rhyme with each other and so on. If the rhymes are in other lines, they make a pattern:

There was a frog    A

Who saw a fish    B

He sat on a log    A

And made a wish   B

Then along came a cat    C

Who squashed him flat!    C

So the rhyme scheme for this poem would be described as ABABCC – much faster than saying, ‘ The first line rhymes with the third line, then the second line rhymes with the fourth line, then there are two lines which rhyme with each other.’

You’ve probably written a poem with the rhyme scheme ABCB, where the second line rhymes with the last line, but the other two don’t rhyme with each other:

There was a frog    A

Who saw a fish    B

He croaked three times   C

And made a wish    B

It can be quite pleasing to work out interesting patterns for your poetry, instead of always using rhyming couplets. Can you work out a poem for the rhyme scheme ABAB, or for ABBA?

If those are too easy, how about ABABC DEDEC? (In this rhyme scheme, the last line of the first verse would need to rhyme with the last line of the second verse).

If all this is too complicated and boring, don’t worry about it – there are lots of other ways to write poetry!

Adding polish to your writing

When you’ve finished writing a poem, you haven’t really finished – what you’ve done is called ‘the first draft’. Now it’s time to revise it – take some time to look it over and improve a word here and there, change lines around if you need to, make certain that it reads well and sounds right, and check for spelling mistakes.

If you’re the kind of writer who says, ‘Oh, no, I never change my poems. Once I’ve written them, I just write another one,’ then your poems will lack the slick, polished feel of good writing – the sort of poetry that wins competitions and gets published. If you only write for your own enjoyment, these things don’t matter, but if you want other people to admire your poems, it’s smarter to try to make them better before you share them. Quality is more important than quantity!

Another quiz question:

What’s wrong with this poem? (I’m fed up with the frog and the fish, so let’s take a new example:)

  1. ‘Twas in the merry month of May
  2. Upon a stormy night
  3. I saw a farmer old and grey
  4. It was a great big fright!

Can you see anything wrong? Scroll down when you’ve thought about it!

 

 

  1. Per-lease! Who wrote this – Robin Hood? That’s not how people talk these days. Even if your poem has a historical setting, old-fashioned words such as ’twas, e’er, ‘neath, oft, e’en, ‘twixt etc. are considered bad writing in modern poetry – they’re not used because they’re the best word for the job, but as a quick fix to make the line shorter.
  1. Are you using an interesting and original idea? Stormy nights are an over-used theme.
  1. It rhymes, but only because you’ve twisted the normal order of the words around. You wouldn’t say, ‘Look at that farmer old and grey over there,’ if you were talking to someone – it doesn’t sound natural.
  1. Sounds babyish, and as if it was the first thing that came into your head. Something different, like ‘My hair went green with fright!’ could be far better. It’s less easy to spot this flaw in your work, so take the trouble to look at each part of the poem carefully when you revise.

All of these are considered ‘lazy’ ways of writing which will make your poems less enjoyable for a lot of readers, so try to avoid them if you want to write GOOD poems, instead of just quick poems.

But the most important thing is that you get pleasure from writing your poetry, so don’t stress over it – there’s no need to struggle and worry over rhymes and rhythms unless you’re having fun with it as a challenge.

And keep writing!

 

Emily Lock is a freelance writer and blogger about the ups and downs of trying to evolve towards a better life.

Her Emily the Dodo blog is updated every week, with ideas to inspire you to make those changes, quizzes to help you decide what you want and planners so you can figure out how you’re going to get it, along with life hacks to make it easier. Come and join Emily on the journey to a happy life.

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