How to write rhymes in poetry


24 June 2011
There's more to rhyming than rhythm and timing. Here's how you can use strong sounds to really bring your poems to life!

Why use rhyme in poetry?

Using rhyme in a poem can help to make it
a) musical
b) memorable
c) magical
The music can be evoked by the echoing sounds of words placed on line endings.

An example of this can be seen as well as heard in the following four lines taken from the poem To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell.
Had we but World enough and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Love’s Day.


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Rhyming schemes of poetry

Many poems follow such a rhyme scheme. To mark the pattern, we use the letters of the alphabet in a kind of literary algebra, ie AABB. Other familiar rhyme schemes include rhyming in couplets: AA  BB  CC. There is also something known as cross-rhyming which is ABAB as used in the quatrains of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Poems need not rhyme according to a regular pattern or scheme, they can be placed at irregular intervals. If, however, you establish a definite rhyme scheme as you are writing, then adhere to this. Any irregularity of rhyme mixed with lines that are in a regular pattern will appear confusing, and will not add any power to a poem.

The chime on a line ending will act as a memory aid, as well as creating music. This can be heard in poems that vary from the solemn to the humorous. The limericks written by Edward Lear, who lived from 1812 to 1888, are held together by a punchy rhyme on line endings, as in the following:  
There was an old man of the coast
Who placidly sat on a post
But when it was cold
He relinquished his hold
And called for some hot buttered toast

The limerick contrasts with the theme within Robert Herrick’s poem, which is remembered for its emphasis on the ABAB rhyme pattern.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

Variations in rhyme patterns for poems

There are a number of variations in rhyme patterns, as for example:
1) monosyllabic words that end a line with a stressed syllable, eg, train/grain. This is called ‘masculine rhyme’.
2) pollosyllabic words ending on an unstressed syllable. These are known as ‘feminine rhymes’, eg singing/clinging.

Poetry known as rap straddles the boundaries between poetry, talk and song. It uses strong musical rhythm and rhyme patterns that are repeated. They vary in length and usually have the end word of each line rhyming, although internal rhymes are used. As in other forms, metaphor and simile are part of their composition. One way to count rhythm in rap is:
a ONE and
a TWO and a

This is a structure with the emphasis falling on the capitalised words. Searching for an example, I tried making a rap poem of my own. ‘I make logic with words/perform as I write/reunite my thoughts in the night…’. Make no mistake, there is as much work put into this style of poem as in any other. Alliteration is a popular device used in rap poetry, and a lot of creative mileage can be obtained from it. Why not try a rap poem yourself and send us the results?

Rhyme is magical because it helps to develop the musical aspect of a poem, and the whole creation is made memorable and magical because of it. When working on your poems, and if you are using a rhyme pattern, make sure that none of the rhyming words are forced. Only use words that really work. Read aloud as you write to check the scheme. By doing this you will hear how the rhyme and rhythm work.  

A strong rhyme, if placed at the end of a poem, can clinch any emotive effect that is aimed for. Apart from making music within a poem, rhyme creates a response in a reader’s mind. A rhyme sets up a strong expectation in the reader’s ear of an echoing pattern to follow. This can, sometimes, have a rather limiting effect. To avoid this try placing your rhymes internally, within the lines, as opposed to line endings.

How to use internal rhyme

‘Speak to me of summer, how you came
to visit us, and the way I waited    
for your train, an hour at least in the sun’s
full glare, until suddenly, or so it seemed,
you were there with case and smile
and hugging me, all unaware of passers-by...’

As well as the rhyme, there is a lot of alliteration in these lines, this is where the repetition of consonant sounds in close or adjacent words, instils a quality of rhyme. This device is another aid to creating music within lines.

There is a pleasing resonance about slant rhymes. This is when an echo of a sound is insistent but not strident. Many contemporary poets prefer these rhymes, sometimes known as ‘off rhyme’ or ‘approximate rhyme’. Instead of chiming the sound, as in ‘sun’ and ‘fun’, a poet makes it intentionally imperfect, ‘fun’ and ‘ban’. This usually involves altering the vowel or the consonant, although the vowel change is subtler, more pleasing to both the silent reader and to anyone reading the poem aloud.

Why use rhyme in poems?

Rhyme does not justify sentimentality, neither does it compensate for slackness or abstractness. Rhyme can be invaluable as:
a) An audible echo
b) A way of assisting in finding new words that might not have occurred without the pressure of rhyming.
c) A link to poetic tradition.
Matching a monosyllable with a three-syllable word often makes a good, subtle rhyme. If you try this, then put the punchy monosyllable first. Examples:  ‘bread/forfeited’, ‘sting/singing’. Some poets have used rhymes that are apocopated: this is one way of hiding the rhyme a little, as for instance in the words: ‘surface’/’sinister’ and ‘freezing’/’seizure’. A method known as crossed syllable rhyming is used as a repetition to reinforce the poem. This can be heard in the ‘ave’ sound of the word ‘behaviour’ and ‘gravely’. Another rhyme which is more pleasing to the eye than the ear is one that consists of words which do not have the same pronunciation although they are spelt in the same way. Examples are: ‘cough’/’through’ and ‘sties’/penalties.’

What is a syllabic poem?

Syllabics, although not a rhyme form, are enjoyable to write and pleasing to hear. It depends on the repeated pattern of a count of syllables, regardless of whether they are stressed or unstressed. It is the traditional Japanese and Celtic style of writing poetry, and can be recognised in the following way:
l)  Normative syllabics, where every line of the poem has the same number of syllables.
2) Quantitative syllabics, where the count varies from line to line in the first stanza, and following stanzas repeat the pattern laid down in the first.
3) Variable syllabics allow line lengths to vary at random, however, the poet sets limits and keeps within them. Example: No line in a poem may have fewer than four syllables or more than nine.

The rhythm and rhyme structure in any poem you are writing influences the way it sounds when read aloud and this helps to make it both musical and memorable.

If you're looking to enhance your poetry writing skills and need a little helping hand, check out our online Poetry Course. Study at home, in your own time with the expertise and guidance from a professional tutor.