On Writing: Rhyming Verse
Have you ever wondered how hard it is to write rhyming verse?
Probably the most common and most loved type of poetry, Rhyming Verse consists of identical (“hard-rhyme”) or similar (“soft-rhyme”) sounds placed at the ends of lines or at predictable locations within the various lines. A rhyme is a repetition of similar sounds in two or more words and is most often used in poetry and songs. The word “rhyme” may also refer to a short poem, such as a rhyming couplet or other brief rhyming poem such as nursery rhymes.
How many of you still remember “Hickory Dickory Dock” or “Jack and Jill?” Do you know why they’ve stayed with you all these years? It’s because, for some reason, our feeble brains can memorize words, scripture verses, poetry, and songs when a rhyming pattern formulates the crux of the work.
Can you remember the words to a popular song or even a hymn that you might not have heard for years and years, but when you hear it, all the words AND the tune come bubbling out of your mind and mouth? Isn’t that amazing? Well, the rhyming pattern has made it quite easy to remember the literary piece.
Now, we could take the time to discuss alliteration, assonance, and forms of poetry like sonnet, tanka, and ode (and many others), but neither time nor space permit such a study. If you are truly a poet at heart, then start to discover all the fascinating facets of rhyming poetry with this site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poetry#Rhyme.2C_alliteration.2C_assonance.
But for the time being, here at this blog, we’ll just discuss meter and rhythm in rhyming poetry.
Rhythm has everything to do with timing and the syllable structure of each word and line in a poem’s stanza. Take a while to learn what these following patterns are in relation to “stressed” (accented) and “unstressed” (unaccented) syllables:
iamb – one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (e.g. describe, Include, retract)
trochee – one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable (e.g. picture, flower)
dactyl – one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables (e.g. annotate, anecdote)
anapest – two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable (e.g. comprehend, understand)
spondee – two stressed syllables together (e.g. e-nough)
When anyone tackles writing a rhyming poem, the most important detail to remember is that a good rhyming poem could be set to music. Every word, line, and stanza would fit perfectly to the tune for which it was written.
When I’m at writers’ conferences and have the privilege to critique any rhyming works by budding authors and I detect a real problem with their “rhythm and meter,” I always direct them to a source that might surprise you: the church hymnal.
If you want to study perfect rhythm and meter poetry, look at the old hymns of the faith. They are so easy to read, to recite, to sing. Why? They are absolutely flawless in the number of syllables, accented and unaccented, in each line of the poem. Let’s take a look at one or two stanzas from some famous hymn lyrics:
America the Beautiful Hymn Lyrics
(Note the perfect eight syllable/six syllable pattern in every stanza, including the refrain. Wow!)
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thorough fare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.
O beautiful for heroes prov’d
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.
Rock Of Ages Hymn Lyrics
(In this hymn, the meter is a perfect seven/seven in each line. Double wow!)
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
So, you see, if you want to become skilled at writing rhyming poetry, study the masters, study hymn lyrics, use your dictionary to find accented and unaccented syllables in words, and try your hand at this most popular and most common poetic verse.
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