Rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming words at the ends of the lines in a poem. It’s indicated by assigning letters to sets of rhyming words.
This won’t be a very long lesson, as rhyme scheme is a fairly simple concept—but as usual, I’ll be encouraging you to break out of old habits, to stretch, to grow.
Let’s examine the rhyme scheme of a typical limerick, to see how it works. Here’s a nice clean one by Edward Lear:
There was an Old Man who supposed, A
That the street door was partially closed; A
But some very large rats, B
Ate his coats and his hats, B
While that futile old gentleman dozed A
You can see that supposed, closed
, and dozed
all rhyme, and therefore they’ve all been assigned the letter “A”. Likewise, rats
rhyme, so they get a “B”. We’d write the rhyme scheme of a limerick as aabba
Couplets, by definition, have an aa
rhyme scheme. Here’s an example from the king of short, humorous poetry, Ogden Nash:
The cow is of the bovine ilk; A
One end is moo, the other, milk. A
Of course, 2-line poems are rare, but it’s quite common to find a poem made up of a series of couplets. I’ll bet you’re very familiar with this one:
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house A
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. A
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care B
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; B
The children were nestled all snug in their beds C
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads… C
Some kinds of poems have specifically prescribed rhyme schemes; a Shakespearean sonnet, for example, is abab cdcd efef gg.
Several people on this site have attempted sestinas, villanelles, and pantoums, each with their own specific rhyme schemes. Those of you who enjoy experimenting with new forms of poetry and who like working within a certain structure may consider researching those forms and attempting one. I’ll whet your appetite with a recent entry by newcomer (and rapidly rising) Sonya Leigh: Of Gifts Divine (a villanelle)
. And here is a sestina by Henry Clemmons--gorgeous. Leave him a comment, please--he's not here nearly often enough.
Fancy new verse forms are fun, but as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the most common kind of rhymed poetry in the Writing Challenge is made up of a series of quatrains. Even though quatrains only have 4 lines, there are several possible rhyme schemes. If you’re used to writing aabb
quatrains, like this:
To God be the glory, great things He has done
So loved He the world that He gave us His son
Who yielded His life, an atonement for sin
And opened the life-gate that all may go in...
Think about writing an abab
quatrain next time. Like this:
O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed…
Or you could write in abcb
Rejoice, ye pure in heart
Rejoice, give thanks, and sing
Your festal banner wave on high
The cross of Christ your King…
Oh, there are so many ways that you can mix it up! Other common quatrain rhyme schemes are aaba, abba
, and even aaab.
With an aaab
quatrain, the ”b” word often becomes the rhyme in the next stanza, which goes bbbc,
followed by a cccd
verse, and so on in a lovely, rhyming chain.
(Can you think of other rhyme schemes that would form a chain?)
Go wild! And of course, there are rhyme schemes for 5- and 6-line poems, and 13-line poems, and any other length of rhyming poem, too. It’s usually best to use the same rhyme scheme for each stanza, but there’s nothing that says you can’t add...
~a refrain with a different rhyme scheme (and meter, perhaps)
~a little couplet at the end of a series of quatrains
~a 5th line every other stanza
~something else to "shake up" the rhyme scheme a bit
What I’m saying, I guess, is that the judges will appreciate variety in the poems they read, and that finding a creative rhyme scheme is definitely one way to add variety to your poetry.
Homework: Write a poem with a rhyme scheme that you’ve never attempted before. You’re on your honor here—I have no way to check! OR link to a Challenge piece that has a unique rhyme scheme. OR ask a question, or respond to something I wrote about rhyme scheme.
A reminder that although the previous classes are now gone forever as threads, I’ve got them compiled into one long Word document, and I’ll gladly send the document to you free of charge. Just PM me with your e-mail address, and I’ll send it right along.
Next week: Setting