This technique is most commonly seen in children’s poetry, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to find in formal poetry. For example, ‘The Windhover’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins has a great example of the technique. It is used when a poet wants to create a rhyme and use a certain word that would not if it wasn’t divided up rhyme. For instance, a poet might want to rhyme “breakdown” with “snake.” They could end the line with “break,” place “down” at the beginning of the next line, and then conclude that line with “snake.”
Explore the Broken Rhyme
Broken Rhyme Definition
Broken rhyme is a type of rhyme that occurs when a writer uses half of a word in one line and the other half in the next.
They cut off a line halfway through a word, usually a compound word, and place the second half at the beginning of the next line. The writer will use a dash to signal that the word has been cut off and that the second half is to come. For example, a line might end with “night-“ with the second half of the word “mare” appearing at the next line. That same line will end with something that rhymes with “night,” such as “might” or “fright.”
Examples of Broken Rhyme in Poetry
Pink Dog by Elizabeth Bishop
In this lesser-known Elizabeth Bishop poem, the author uses sets of three lines, known as tercets, to create a perfectly rhymed piece about a “dog so bare… / without a single hair.” She uses an unusual example of broken rhyme in the tenth stanza. It reads:
solution is to wear a fantasía.
Tonight you simply can’t afford to be a-
n eyesore… But no one will ever see a
Here, Bishop cuts the word “an” in half, placing “a” at the end of line two and “n” at the beginning of line three. This example is not quite as successful as those featured in ‘How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear’ by Edward Lear and ‘The Windhover’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Discover more Elizabeth Bishop poems.
How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear by Edward Lear
Edward Lear is a well-loved poet, remembered for his nonsense verse. In this particular poem, he starts the poem with the title line and then follows it up with references to his “volumes of stuff” and how some think he’s “ill-tempered and queer” while others find him “pleasant enough.”
Partway through the poem, in the sixth stanza, the poet writes the following:
When he walks in waterproof white,
The children run after him so!
Calling out, “He’s gone out in his night-
Gown, that crazy old Englishman, oh!”
He cuts the word “nightgown” in half, making “night” and “gown” appear at the beginning of lines three and four of that stanza. This allows the word “white” at the end of the first line to rhyme with “night.”
Explore more poems by Edward Lear.
The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins
This well-known sonnet is one of Hopkins’ best. It is written in the poet’s invented “sprung rhythm.” This is a rhythmic pattern used in poetry that mimics natural speech. It refers to the arrangement of stresses rather than syllables in a line of verse. The first syllable is stressed and is followed by several unstressed other syllables. That number can vary but be usually between one and four in Hopkins’s work.
In addition to the use of sprung rhythm, Hopkins also uses examples of broken rhyme. The first four lines read:
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
Here, Hopkins cuts off the word “kingdom,” separating it into “king” and “dom,” in order to make “king” rhyme with “riding” and “striding.” IT also rhymes with “wing” and “swing” in the next few lines. This is a perfect example of the technique.
Explore more Gerard Manley Hopkins poems.
Broken rhyme is used when a poet wants to use a clever rhyme, utilizing a specific word that wouldn’t normally rhyme. Sometimes it’s used as a way around breaking a rhyme scheme.
A few types of rhyme are half-rhyme, eye-rhyme, and perfect rhyme. The latter is the most commonly used and easiest to recognize. Eye rhyme occurs when two words look like they would rhyme but don’t, and half-rhyme occurs when words partially rhyme.
A half-rhyme occurs when two words partially rhyme but aren’t perfect rhymes. For example, the consonant sounds might line up, but that’s all. Usually, it is used when poets don’t want to create an obvious rhyme scheme.
Related Literary Terms
- Alliterative Meter: a type of verse that focuses on alliteration as a way of creating a metrical structure. Alliteration is used rather than accents or rhymes.
- Cadence: the natural rhythm of a piece of text, created through a writer’s selective arrangement of words, rhymes, and the creation of meter.
- End Rhyme: a common type of rhyme found in poetry. They occur when the last word of two or more lines rhyme.
- Exact Rhyme: a literary device that’s used in poetry. It occurs when the writer uses the same stressed vowel or consonant sounds.
- Eye Rhyme: a literary device used in poetry. It occurs when two words are spelled the same or similarly but are pronounced differently.