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Leonine Rhyme

Leonine rhymes utilize internal rhyme and a natural pause in the middle of a line. These rhymes were most common in the Middle Ages. Specifically, in Latin poetry.

The name of this particular type of rhyme likely dates back to a monk, Leonius, who is believed to be the author of Historia Sacra, a history of the Old Testament. It is written in verse with a central or leonine rhyme. Some have also suggested that another man, Leoninus of the twelfth century (who may or may not be the same person), could also be responsible for inventing this form. 

Leonine Rhyme definition and examples

Leonine Rhyme Definition

A leonine rhyme occurs when the poet rhymes a word that appears directly before the caesura with the final word in the same line of verse. For example: 

After I went to the sea, I felt so much more free

In this simple example, the word “sea” and the word “free” rhyme. There is a pause in the middle of the line, denoted by the comma. This is known as a caesura.

In earlier centuries, leonine rhymes were described derogatorily as “jangling verse.” A likely reference to the pattern of rhyme and how earlier scholars saw it as a poor progression from the classical poetic forms.

Famously, William Shakespeare used leonine rhymes in his plays when he was writing for characters he wanted to portray as outrageous or strange. The distinct transition between normal blank verse dialogue and the use of leonine rhymes creates a sharp contrast.

Examples of Leonine Rhymes in Poetry 

The Owl and the Pussy Cat by Edward Lear 

‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ is a wonderful poem written by famed nonsense poetry writer Edward Lear. It is certainly one of his most-commonly read pieces and is often enjoyed by young readers. Take a look at this first stanza and note any uses of leonine rhymes: 

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 

In a beautiful pea-green boat, 

They took some honey, and plenty of money, 

Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 

The Owl looked up to the stars above, 

And sang to a small guitar, 

“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 

What a beautiful Pussy you are, 

You are, 

You are! 

What a beautiful Pussy you are!” 

In the third line, Lear writes, “They took some honey, and plenty of money.” Here, he uses a perfect example of leonine rhyme. The word “honey” falls right before the caesura and the word “money,” with which it rhymes, appears at the end of the poem. If readers continue on into the second stanza. There is another example. Lear writes: 

O let us be married! Too long we have tarried

The words “married” and “tarried” create another great example of a leonine rhyme here. 

Discover more Edward Lear poems

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe 

‘The Raven’ is one of the best-known examples of this very particular type of rhyme. The opening lines of the poem are some of the most famous lines of verse in the English language. Take a look at them below and see where the author utilized a leonine rhyme: 

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”

Take a look at line one and the use of the words “dreary” and “weary.” “Dreary” falls before the caesura, the common location for the first word in a leonine rhyme, and the word “weary” comes at the end of the first line. Again, this conforms perfectly to the standard definition of what a leonine rhyme is. 

The same type of pattern can also be observed in the third line with the words “napping” and “tapping.” Throughout this poem, Poe uses a great deal of repetition. Within the next few lines, he rhymes the words “tapping,” “rapping,” “rapping” again, “tapping” again, and more.

Explore more Edgar Allan Poe poems


What are the types of rhymes

There are many different types of rhyme in poetry. But, some of the most important are end rhyme, half-rhyme, leonine rhyme, and internal rhyme. The first of these is most common and is likely what most readers imagine when they envision a poem with a rhyme scheme. Half-rhymes occur when a poet connects words through some similarities in sound, and an internal rhyme, of which a leonine rhyme is one example, occurs within lines rather than strictly at the end of them. 

What is the rhyme when a word in the middle of the line rhymes with the word at the end of the line?

This is known as a leonine rhyme. It is a type of internal rhyme or that which occurs within lines rather than only at the end of them. The word in the middle of the line usually falls before a caesura or a natural pause in the line, denoted by punctuation or a pause in the meter.

What is an internal rhyme?

An internal rhyme is a rhyme that occurs within a single line of verse. For example, rather than the words at the ends of lines rhyming, a poet might rhyme the second and fourth words of the same line.

Do poems have to rhyme

While many poems do rhyme, it is certainly not a requirement that a poet utilizes a rhyme scheme in their text. Today, most contemporary poets write in free verse. This means that they compose poetry without using a rhyme scheme or a metrical pattern.

What is an eye rhyme

An eye rhyme occurs when two words look like they should rhyme but don’t. For example, “love” and “move” or “flies” and “enemies.” 

What is an ABAB rhyme scheme

This pattern of rhyme is known as an alternate rhyme scheme. This is due to the fact that the poet alternates between one rhyming sound and another. They might begin, as this pattern suggests, with two different end sounds. But, as the lines progress, they might introduce a more complicated pattern.

Related Literary Terms 

  • Blank Verse: a kind of poetry that is written in unrhymed lines but with a regular metrical pattern.
  • Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
  • Onegin Stanza: or Pushkin sonnet, is a stanza form invented and popularized by Alexander Pushkin in his 1825-1832 novel, Eugene Onegin. 
  • Ottava Rima: is used to describe a particular type of stanza in poetry. It uses eight iambic lines and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC.
  • Broken Rhyme: an interesting type of rhyme that occurs when a poet cuts a word in half to create a rhyme. 
  • Closed Couplet: a pair of lines that are grammatically complete, or at least logically complete, on their own. They also usually rhyme.

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