The rhyme scheme is based on the rhymes that appear at the end of lines, also known as end rhymes. While these are the only kind of rhyme that might appear in a poem, they are the most common and the easiest to spot.
Explore Rhyme Scheme
Definition of Rhyme Scheme
The pattern the writer uses to rhyme a poem is known as the rhyme scheme. It can be simple, like ABAB ABAB, or it can be more complicated, like “ABCD EFDD EFCC.” Several well-known rhyming patterns are connected to certain poetic forms. Usually, if one spots one of these patterns, it’s like the poet is trying to use a particular poetic form. Some of the most common are listed below.
Common Rhyme Schemes
- ABBAABBACDCDCD— this pattern corresponds with a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet.
- ABABCDCDEFEFGG— this pattern corresponds with a Shakespearean Sonnet
- ABABBCBCCDCDEE— the rhyme scheme of a Spenserian sonnet.
- ABCB— usually used with a hymn or ballad stanza.
- AABBA— the rhyme scheme of a limerick.
- ABABCBDED—terza rima rhyme scheme.
Finding the Rhyme Scheme in a Poem
When one is looking for the rhyme scheme in a particular piece of poetry, the best thing to do is to take a look at the words at the end of each line. It might be obvious which rhyme due to their obvious sounds and spelling. To make it easier, it’s best to annotate the poem, write a letter next to each line, and use that same letter when the lines rhyme.
For example, every line that rhymes with “day” is marked with an “A,” and then every line that ends with “cat” is marked with a “B,” and so on. In the end, you’ll have a list that looks something like ABCB ADCB BCDA. These collections of letters could become quite complicated if the poet chose to use rhyme sporadically rather than conform to a simple pattern using quatrains or quintains. If one starts looking through a poem and is unable to find a pattern of any kind or only a few disparate rhymes, it’s likely the poem is written in free verse.
Examples of Rhyme Schemes in Poetry
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
The Divine Comedy is Alighieri’s masterpiece and one of the best-known examples of terza rima poetry. The poem is divided into three sections Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Alighieri pioneered this rhyme scheme and it’s now closely connected with the poem. Here are the first lines of Inferno in the original Italian.
Tant’ è amara che poco è più morte;
ma per trattar del ben ch’i’ vi trovai,
dirò de l’altre cose ch’i’ v’ho scorte.
Io non so ben ridir com’ i’ v’intrai,
tant’ era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbandonai.
Despite being in a foreign language, it’s easy to find the elements of terza rima rhyme in these lines. They ultimately follow a pattern of ABABCBDED. The ending sounds are fairly obvious, with “trovai” rhyming with “v’intrai” and “abbandonai” in the second stanza.
Emily Dickinson’s poetry is more often than not written in ballad stanzas, also known as hymn stanzas. There are many good examples of this type of stanza to be discovered in her work. take for example these two stanzas from ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung’:
The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung —
There seemed to rise a Tune
From Miniature Creatures
Accompanying the Sun —
Far Psalteries of Summer —
Enamoring the Ear
They never yet did satisfy —
Remotest — when most fair
It is quite easy to spot in these two stanzas how Dickinson makes use of the meter and rhyme scheme of a hymn stanza. The lines rhyme ABCB, changing sounds in most examples. Some of the rhymes in her work use half-rhymes rather than full or perfect rhymes. This is quite a common occurrence in the world of poetry.
Read more Emily Dickinson poems.
‘Sonnet 18,’ also known as ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,’ is one of the poet’s best-known. It uses the rhymes scheme for which Shakespeare is remembered. The lines rhyme ABABCDCDEFEFGG. This pattern is so ingrained in his poetry that its synonymous with his name. Sonnets that use this pattern and iambic pentameter are known as “Shakespearean sonnets.” The first lines of this particular sonnet read:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
Readers should note the use of “temperate” and “date” in the first four lines. Here, the reader is forced to change the pronunciation if they want the words to rhyme perfectly.
Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry.
The most common rhyme schemes are alternate (ABAB) and couplet (AABB).
Why do poets use rhyme schemes?
When they want to create a unified pattern throughout their work and give their poem a musical feeling. Its also used when a poet wants conform their lines to a famous poetic form.
Sonnets usually follow the Shakespearean or Petrarchan pattern. The latter’s octave rhymes ABBAABBA, usually with the sestet rhyming CDCDCD or CDECDE. A Shakespearean sonnet follows the rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.
No, poets can use free verse when writing. That is, a lack of a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
Rhyme schemes are important to understand because the often inform writer’s word choices and can transform how a reader receives the poem.
Related Literary Terms
- Rhyme Scheme of Sonnets: sonnets usually conform to one of two different rhyme schemes, those connected to the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan sonnet forms.
- Rhetoric: the use of language effectively in writing or speech to persuade the audience.
- Terza Rima: the use of language effectively in writing or speech to persuade the audience.
- Iambic Pentameter—a very common way that lines of poetry are structured. It refers to lines that contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second stressed.
- Canto—a subsection of a long narrative or epic poem. It is made up of at least five lines, but it is normally much longer.
- Epic Poetry—a long narrative poem that tells the story of heroic deeds, normally accomplished by more-than-human characters.