Deciphering the Rhyme

Deciphering the Rhyme Scheme

Understanding a poem’s rhyme scheme is one of the most important parts of
understanding poetry. But, sometimes understanding the rhyme scheme a poet chose is
harder than it seems. In this video, we’ll explore the steps you can take to make
deciphering the rhyme scheme easier as well as go through two examples utilizing those
techniques.


When it comes to understanding the rhyme scheme in a piece of poetry, there’re a few
things you can do to make your life a lot easier.

  • Understand possible rhyme schemes
  • Commit to a close reading of the poem
  • Highlight and annotate


Understand possible rhyme schemes

While attempting to analyze the rhyme scheme of a particular piece of poetry, it’s helpful
to have prior knowledge of what possible rhyme schemes you might come across. For
example, understanding what a sonnet, ballad, villanelle, or other poetic form looks like.
This may also include knowing when your poem was written and what the primary poetic
forms during that period were. For example, if your poem was written by William
Shakespeare during the Elizabethan Period it’s likely, although not certain, that it’s going
to be a sonnet. This means a particular rhyme scheme is going to apply.
Text on page includes list of possible rhyme schemes.

Commit to a close reading of the poem

If you’re new to poetry, or even if you’ve been reading and analyzing poetry for a long
time, you’re going to need to take your time when looking for the rhyme scheme. It’s
going to be hard, if not impossible to skim through a poem and fully comprehend what
pattern (or lack thereof) a poet is using.

Make sure you also pay attention to the poet’s use of half-rhymes, exact rhymes, and full
rhymes. These may all end up being important when you consider the poem as a whole.
Slide Five: Highlight and annotate

By highlighting and annotating the patterns you see you’re going to be in a much better
position later one. When you begin reading, use a pen or highlighter to mark which words
rhyme with one another. This could be as simple as circling the rhyming end words,
highlighting the half-rhymes, or underlining the exact rhymes. It’s also important to pay
attention to what’s going on within the lines. These internal rhymes should also be noted.
Annotating is a skill that takes practice, so, lets look at a few examples and consider how
we might decipher the rhyme scheme using annotating and close reading.

Slide Six: The Sick Rose by William Blake

Here we have the two stanzas of The Sick Rose by William Blake. This piece has a simple
and easy to decipher rhyme scheme.

The easiest way to begin is to read the lines of the piece through once, just to get a handle
on the sound and the poet’s use of language. Sometimes, complex poetic diction makes
finding a rhyme scheme more complicated. The better you understand a poem, the more
likely it is you’re going to find the right rhyme scheme.

Slide Seven: The Sick Rose by William Blake

Now, that you’ve read the poem through, let’s take a look at these lines and see what
rhymes we can find.

(Highlight appear in all lines of the poem)

Here, we can see that Blake rhymes every other line. The words, “worm” and “storm”
rhyme in the first stanza and the words “joy” and “destroy” rhyme in the second stanza.
Slide Eight: The Sick Rose by William Blake rhyme scheme
The final rhyme scheme of the poem, taking note of the rhymes and non-rhymes is:
ABCB DEFE.

Slide Nine: Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe Stanza One
Now, let’s take a look at a more complicated example.
Here we have the first stanza of Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe. One of the poet’s best loved poems, this piece has a fairly simple rhyme scheme.

Slide Ten: Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe Stanza One highlighted
Here, we can see that Poe uses six different end words in the first six lines. That means
there are no exact rhymes. But, there are perfect end rhymes. “Sea” and “Lee” rhyme at
the ends of lines two and four and then “me” rhymes with both of those words at the end
of line six.

The other end words, “ago,” “you,” and “thought” do not rhyme. It’s a pretty good bet at
this point that Poe is going to continue this pattern into the next lines. Lets take a look at
the next two stanzas.

Slide Eleven: Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe Stanzas two and three
Again, before trying to annotate, take the time to read these stanzas. Also, make sure to
note the number of lines. Poe uses six lines in the first two stanzas but in the third he
makes a change. There are eight lines in stanzas three and six, six lines lines in stanza
four, and seven lines in stanza five. The number of lines per stanza is going to change how
the rhyme scheme plays out.

Slide Twelve: Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe Stanzas two and three
highlighted

Take a look at the rhymes in these next two stanzas. You can see that Poe uses the same
end words, “sea,” “Lee,” and “me” in both stanzas. This is something that continues into
the fourth stanza. So far, we have a rhyme scheme of ABCBDB for stanzas one, two and
four and while repeating the ‘B’ end sound and using different sounds in the other lines, a
pattern of ABCBDBEB in the third stanza.
But, in the fifth there’s a change.

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe Stanzas five and six

Take a look at the fifth and sixth stanzas. These have different numbers of lines and the
end words change.

The poet uses new words, including “love,” “above,” “dreams,” and “side.” The same
“we” and “sea” rhymes continue but new ones are added too. “Love” and “above” rhyme
in stanza five and “side” and “bride” rhyme in stanza six. There is also a half-rhyme
between “eyes,” “side,” and “bride.”

So, in the end, if we note every perfect rhyme and non-rhyme, we end up with the
following rhyme scheme.

Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe Rhyme Scheme

So, in the end, if we note every perfect rhyme and non-rhyme, we end up with the
following rhyme scheme.

Conclusion

To reiterate, when attempting to find the rhyme scheme. Make sure that you:

  • Understand the possible rhyme schemes
  • Commit to a close reading of the poem
  • Highlight and annotate everything

If you take these steps, and pay close attention to the number of lines, the way the poet
uses repetition, half-rhyme, and exact rhyme, you won’t go wrong when deciphering the
rhyme scheme.

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