Saturday, January 14, 2012

Funny Thing About Rhyme...

... like many apparently simple things in life, there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. Virtually every writer, whether poet, novelist, essayist or journalist, has likely toyed with rhyme at one time or another; most of the time not giving it a second thought beyond its schoolish fun. After all, it's not often we hear rhyme described as fascinating in its complexity, right?

What brings many, myself included, to rhyme is more of a stumbling headlong into the form because of its quirkiness and playfulness. After all, who hasn't recited "Roses Are Red" in the original or even written a knock-off? When I was growing up as an Air Force brat, a favorite was:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
You've got a shape,
Like a B-52.

It's hard not to love the romantic sentiment in that short verse written to my first girlfriend on Valentines Day. And what's not to like about its same sounding endings? Not to mention, it's got a bit of a beat. That rendering in rhyme was in about the fourth grade as I recall, when the massive B-52 jet bomber was becoming a household word on Air Force bases around the country.

Regretably, I can't claim to be the orignal author as most boys in my class were writing and reciting that little ditty ad infinitum at the time. Our teachers must have had the patience of Job. I'm certain Shakespeare thought the same thing about the beauty and functionality of rhyme, although perhaps fleetingly, as he added a rhyming couplet to the end of many of the acts and scenes in his plays.

So, let's get serious. You don't have to look very far to learn rhyme has a long history and is complex beyond all appearances. Google is loaded with what could be a literary googol of citations about rhyme. If you go there, I would plan to linger. For example, did you know...

* the first recorded (still surviving) rhyme was written in China in the tenth century BC?
* rhyme is found in the Koran and in the Bible.
* even the Greeks are known to have messed around with rhyme back in the day.
* rhyme made its appearance in Europe well before the 7th century by which time the Irish were using it extensively?
* rhyme started replacing alliteration (more on that in another post) as a preferred poetic form back in 14th century Europe?

And here are just a few of its many forms:

* Rhymes can be viewed generally or specifically. General rhymes have similar sounding words and may give a verse a sense of form. But they may not typically be regarded as rhyming in a strict way. The terms "near rhyme" (king-daring) or "forced rhyme" (noun-found) come to mind.

* On the other hand, rhymes in a specific sense are often referred to as perfect rhymes (see the B-52 above).

* Perfect Rhyme: Words in which the vowel sounds are exactly the same, whether spelled the same way or differently---the final stressed vowel sound (and the sounds that follow that vowel sound) are key, such as say-bay, dolt-bolt, good-would, shopping-hopping, locket-pocket.

* Perfect rhymes can be broken down further based on the number of rhyming syllables in the rhyming words.

* Of course, if there are perfect rhymes, there must be imperfect rhymes, also termed "near rhymes", already noted.

* Based on the location of the final stressed syllable in rhyming words, the rhyme can be classified as masculine, feminine or dactylic. (stay tuned next week).

* There can be rhyme which uses the same vowels (a characteristic known as "assonance") or the same consonants (known oddly enough as "consonance").

* There are also semirhymes where one word in the rhyming set has an extra syllable, not to mention half rhymes, pararhymes, syllabic rhymes, punning rhymes (where the words carry a very intentional and droll meaning), eye rhymes, tail rhymes, mind rhymes and holorhymes, just to name a few.

This list is far from exhaustive and that's just in English. Rhyming forms also vary based on the language in which they are written. Lost in translation doesn't even begin to cover it.

You can probably tell where this is going. First, there's no way to cover everything about rhyme in a single post. And second, because there's no way to cover it all in a single post, my new mission in life is to blog the socks off rhyme---to dignify it beyond doggerel; to lift it up as an art form; to celebrate its place in history; nay, to salute rhymers as risk takers in the face of often withering prosaic criticism.

So, take heart, rhymers. This is our time---and apparently it has been since about the 12th century. Who knew?

More to come....


  1. Well done Bill. Great fun facts about thyme and its origins.

    Next week is anyone's guess. . .?

    Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  2. Thanks for sharing, Bill. I love rhyme! Looking forward to more from you!

  3. Thanks, Margot and Connie for stopping by and commenting. There is a lot to work with when it comes to rhyme. So, this should keep me busy for a while.

  4. Hey Bill, a very interesting post on rhyme.

  5. Hi Bill! First off, thanks for stopping by my blog.

    Great facts about rhyme. I really do enjoy a good rhyme. Loved the post. I added your site to my RSS feed, so I will be back :)

  6. I like the way you gathered all those facts about rhyme - your challenge has a worthy history! Good luck..I'll be checking in!

  7. I enjoyed this history and your sweet childhood poem.

  8. I had to look up a B52 to see what shape it is. :) Nice post.

  9. Cool! I'm taking a poetry class right now and I'm having a blast learning about rhyme and rhythm.

  10. Thanks for stopping by our blog, Bill. If you haven't read April's recent interview with Barney Saltzberg, you may be interested in his advice for those writing picture books in rhyme. And you can enter for a chance to win his terrific picture book BEAUTIFUL OOPS!