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What is poetry?
What is poetry?

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7 Other rhyming techniques

  • Near- or half rhymes are words or combinations of words that achieve only a partial rhyme. Half rhymes can be between words with just one syllable, or between parts of words, for example where the accented syllables rhyme with each other, but other syllables in the word don’t rhyme. For instance: cover–shovel; wily–piling, calling–fallen; wildebeest–building.

  • Assonant rhyme refers to echoing vowel sounds, either in paired words at the end of lines, or as a kind of internal rhyme.

  • Alliteration, or the echoing of consonant sounds, is often used as well. Look at these lines from Dylan Thomas’ ‘Fern Hill’:

I should hear him fly with the high fields

And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.

(Dylan Thomas)
  • Mosaic rhyme uses two words in a feminine or triple rhyme. This ancient technique has a very musical quality. It was much used by Anglo-Saxon poets, and is also well used by modern poets.

Activity 18

Now click on the link below to read Anthony Hecht’s poem ‘It out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it’. Look in particular at the way it rhymes.

It out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


Certain set poetic forms have various rhyme schemes associated with them. A rhyme scheme is the pattern in which the rhymed line-endings appear in the poem. It is expressed by giving the same alphabetic symbol to each line ending in the same rhyme. So, a quatrain, for instance, may be rhymed abab, as in Hecht’s poem, but it can also be rhymed abba. A quatrain followed by a couplet may rhyme abab cc.

Activity 19

Chart the rhyme scheme devised by the author in the following neat and witty poem, which is comprised of two pairs of quatrains and tercets.

The end of love

The end of love should be a big event.

It should involve the hiring of a hall.

Why the hell not? It happens to us all.

Why should it pass without acknowledgement?

Suits should be dry-cleaned, invitations sent.

Whatever form it takes – a tiff, a brawl –

The end of love should be a big event.

It should involve the hiring of a hall.

Better than the unquestioning descent

Into the trap of silence, than the crawl

From visible to hidden, door to wall.

Get the announcements made, the money spent.

The end of love should be a big event.

It should involve the hiring of a hall.

(Sophie Hannah)


The rhyme scheme runs abba/abab/abb/aab. The initially balanced pairings become disrupted and disjointed in a design which ties in with the author’s intention and the subject of the poem. The lines can’t quite rid themselves of the previous rhyme and progress to a new one. The two rhymes remain throughout, echoing the strangely irksome, irritating feeling at the end of a relationship between two people.

Many poems are written in a structure devised by the writer for that particular poem. Bear in mind you can utilise any of the technical elements you’ve learned – different stanza lengths, rhymes, etc. – in your own poems.

Rhymes traditionally appear at the end of lines. When they are used within a line, we call this internal rhyme, as in this extract from Poe’s famous poem, ‘The raven’:

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter…

(Edgar Allan Poe)

A more modern example, where the rhyme is consecutive, is this extract from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’:

Words move, music moves,

Only in time; but that which is only living

Can only die. Words, after speech, reach …

(T.S. Eliot)

A good way to explore rhyme is to let it develop organically, first by paying attention to all words – saying them aloud, rolling them around your tongue. What do they feel and sound like? Is there any onomatopoeia? The word ‘clank’ is onomatopeic, because of the ‘nk’ – and also the quality of the ‘a’. Think of more examples for yourself.

In bringing this sort of attention to the words you use, you will become more aware of language and of whatever natural rhymes you may use unconsciously. Later, you can build on this lucky accident of the unconscious, by instituting a regular pattern of rhyme, or rewriting the poem in an established form. Or you may use a rhyme scheme that is irregular. Even free verse poems are allowed to have rhymes! It is important that you have your own agenda for each poem. Some poets have even invented new forms. There isn’t anything to say you can’t do that, in the same way that poets can create new words. The words ‘chortle’ and ‘galumph’, for instance, coined by Lewis Carroll in his poem ‘Jabberwocky’, eventually came into regular usage.

Activity 20

  • Chart out the rhyme schemes in some of the poems we have looked at so far: ‘Sports pages – I: Proem’ in Section 3, and ‘Helen’s sister’ and ‘The insusceptibles’ in Section 5.4. Note the internal rhymes, the full rhymes and half rhymes, the dissonant rhymes, the assonance and alliteration.

  • Invent some rhymes yourself: full rhymes such as freight/weight, street/sheet, cable/label; near and half rhymes such as black/block, lip/cup, puddle/riddle, weather/measure; and more outlandish concoctions such as furies/curious, timpanist/tempest, bacon/pagan. Be warned: this is an addictive game!

  • Building on lines from earlier writing activities, write one couplet with full rhymes, one with near rhymes, and one with none at all.

  • Now write four lines which rhyme abab. The lines may be of different lengths, and you may use full rhyme or half rhyme. You can work from earlier ideas, if you wish. Perhaps these lines might precede one of the couplets you produced for the question above, in which case you’ll then have a whole poem, rhymed ababcc!


  • It is not cheating to use a rhyming dictionary! On the contrary, it’s a way of keeping your literary muscles in tone, by recalling or expanding your vocabulary. Try The Poet’s Manual and Rhyming Dictionary (Stillman, 2000) or The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary (Fergusson, 1985). Searching for words and phrases on the internet can also take you in interesting directions.

  • Many writers use a selection of reference books, in order to have as much knowledge as possible at their fingertips. Poets don’t just have ideas, for which they find the words. Sometimes, the words themselves lead the way.

  • Some useful reference books for poets are: a dictionary, a rhyming dictionary, a thesaurus, dictionaries of quotations and literary terms, biographical and general encyclopedia, and dictionaries of slang, place-names, myths and legends, science, inventions, etc.

  • Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is an invaluable and inspiring reference book.

  • Running an internet search on a single word or phrase can lead to interesting results and new directions to explore.

Check for any unconscious use of internal rhyme in any of the lines you’ve written. Exploit any happy accidents. Even if you don’t immediately recognise any rhymes, a word which faintly resembles another word might then suggest a rhyme. These kinds of rhyme-games can suggest ideas or lead in new directions. Some poets think that any one poem should be consistent with its chosen method of rhyme, half rhyme or lack of rhymes. Otherwise, it might look as if the writer has been sloppy. Theory is all very well, but the reality is that writers play freely with rhyme, and mostly what counts is the poem as a whole.

Remember the problem of inversion discussed earlier. Don’t invert your sentences or twist the syntax to achieve a rhyme. Have you resorted to an archaic grammatical construction to get the right word at the end of the line? This is cheating. If a line reads unnaturally, then the seams will show. We’ll notice the rhyme rather than the poem. Be assured: someone will notice!

So this is how our house is coming along:

The house that Jack or Jill might build

We know that poems

are made of lines

and lines need line-


which we’ve already discussed.

These lines can, in turn, then be grouped together or divided in creative


into equal

or unequal sections

- poetic paragraphs called stanzas or verses …

These lines

may contain rhymes

and each word has a rhythm …

with stresses, no stresses …

So the next thing to consider is stress and rhythm.