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Friday, September 2, 2011

Unlocking clockwork rhyme

If you noticed the lock/ clock rhyme tucked into the title, you discovered a subtle option for poets who want to tone down the sound of end-line rhyming pairs:

Slide rhymes into unexpected places.

Traditional metered poetry in English seldom uses that option, preferring instead true rhymes placed in the end-line position, which empathetically ends a line as predictably and regularly, yeah, as clockwork.

There’s nothing wrong with that. However, it helps to have a reason. For instance, you might want to stay in line with a previously cut pattern of verse, such as the sonnet or villanelle. Or, you might want to emphasize something strongly, knowing full well that end-line rhymes offer full impact.

Heavy repetition of sound can seldom be ignored. If you want to turn up the volume, active verbs or strong nouns give you the strongest emphasis with the heft to carry the weight of your thoughts and rhyming stress. Conversely, the use of weak words such as of/ above, when/ then, or me/ the does not help a thought, sound, or picture.

Scattering rhymes within the lines provides one possibility for toning it down. Another is to use slant rhyme or off rhyme instead of true rhyming pairs. Generally, this involves a slight change in one word to make a similar, corresponding sound echo, such as occurs in summer/ simmer.

If thinking of off rhymes gives you a headache, aim for assonance or consonance.

To define:

Assonance – Repeats vowel sounds to create a mood or poetic alternative to rhyme. For an example of the moodiness that often echoes in an “o” sound: “Only a forlorn loon broke the silence on our pond.”

Consonance – Repeats consonants and adds a stronger sound echo than assonance. For an example of repetition sizzling with “s” and “m” sounds then flaring into the roar of “r”: “Summer simmered in smoldering fires.”


© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved



  1. I absolutely agree.... I "scatter" my rhymes frequently and think it has a far greater impact than the more formal rhyming couplet or quadraint. You mentioned villanelles and sonnets. I'm far too inexperienced to make those sound convincingly beautiful, so I fall back on the license of my free verse and am happy just where I am. The other day I wrote a 4 stanza poem, each of ten lines, each with only two rhyming adjacent lines. And the two rhyming lines moved up one line with each stanza. It was just a fun thing to do, and it's not noticeable, it absolutely doesn't have the air of formality, and it leaves the poet freer to define the image he is trying to create. Another sort of trick I like is to use similar sounding words and syllables, like a poem I wrote yesterday wherein is found "clapboards clambered" and in another the "yak of his klackity klak." I hope you will have a minute to see my four stanza poem, Sandman Words at http://johnallenrichter.wordpress.com/2011/09/01/sandman-words/

  2. Sounds like you're finding the fun of experimenting with poetry and designing your own forms. That's great. Hope you check out the many free resources, tips, and articles on this blog and The Poetry Editor website. When it comes to one-on-one readings and responses to a poet's work, however, it never takes a minute! Frequent requests for a quick look are why I started a critique service many years ago, so I hope you'll take a look at the Critique page of the website and see the professional feedback you would be getting to help the poems at hand but also those you have yet to write.