Analyzing poetry is an essential part of a post-secondary literature degree, though the skill may come in handy in high-school English classes too. Poems can be difficult to understand, as poetry relies on imagery and mood to convey meaning. Poems are often constrained to particular forms and rhyme schemes also, but the rhyme can be key to understanding and writing about a poem. Knowing how to describe rhymes will help you break down a poem’s meaning in an essay.
Before you can start writing about poetry, be sure to get the language straight. The way a poem rhymes is called a rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme can differ from poem to poem, but is always described using letters to indicate similar rhymes. If the first and second line of a poem end with the same sound and the third and fourth lines end with the same sound (even though that sound is different from the first two lines), the poem has an A, A, B, B rhyme scheme.
Examples of Rhyme Schemes
When writing about the rhymes in a poem, take note of the way the lines end and then assign letters to each couplet (two) or triplet (three) lines with the same ending. Other poems may rhyme following an A, B, A, B, C, D, C, D scheme, and some may continue in rhyming couplets through the entire poem, such as the classic "Humpty Dumpty:"
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King's horses, And all the King's men Couldn't put Humpty together again.
An English 101 Web page at California State University, Chico offers John Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy” as an example of a complex rhyme scheme. The poem follows an A, B, A, B, C, D, E, C, D, E pattern. When writing about poems, describing the rhyme scheme can lead to an analysis of form and rhythm.
Other Rhyming Vocabulary
Now that you know that rhyming poems have a scheme that the poet rigorously follows, you can describe the variations in rhyme using the terms “slant” or “eye” rhyme and look at where the rhymes occur. Rhymes at the end of lines are called “end” rhymes, whereas rhymes occurring within a single line, such as “And be among her cloudy trophies hung” are called internal rhymes. Additionally, poets utilize “slant” or “eye” rhymes at the end of lines where two similar sounding but not identical words are meant to pass for a rhyme. As the English 101 page on the California State University, Chico website points out, in “Ode on Melancholy,” Keats uses the slant rhymes of “owl” with “soul” and “peonies” with “eyes”.
Why Rhymes Matter
Rhyme is a function of form and rhythm, and by adhering to a particular rhyme scheme the poet is giving his readers both a guideline to read the poem aloud and an indication of the type of poem he is writing. Sonnets, for example, have rigid rhyme schemes that poets adhere to. By writing in a particular poetic style and abiding by a particular rhyme scheme, the poet is entering his or her poem into a kind of poetry with a familiar pattern and is therefore expecting it to be understood as a particular type of work. You can compare sonnets with one another easily because they follow the same format. Rhyme also builds mood in a poem, and by maintaining a scheme throughout a long poem the poet creates patterns for thoughts to break and for tension to build. Looking at the rhyme scheme can reveal a question-and-response, as in sonnets, where the opening eight lines create a situation and the last six resolve the conflict.