With an eye rhyme, this means that they look like they’re going to rhyme, by when they are said aloud, they don’t. It is a visual kind of rhyme that is meant to appeal to a reader’s desire for visual unity in poetry but does not carry the same sense of euphony that a true rhyme does. Despite this, eye rhymes can be helpful when a writer wants to emphasize a poem’s musical qualities. This kind of rhyme is also known as a visual rhyme or sight rhyme.
Definition of Eye Rhyme
Eye rhymes occur when two words look like they should sound the same but don’t. This is due to the way they’re spelled. A lot of eye rhymes originated in Middle and Old English, in which the words were pronounced differently than they are today.
Shifts in pronunciation mean that words that used to rhyme no longer do. This is often connected to the Great Vowel Shift, a significant change in pronunciation that occurred between 1400 and 1700. These historic rhymes are an interesting part of the language, and it’s possible to find them in Shakespeare’s poetry and plays as well as that of poets like Alexander Pope. Sometimes, poets continued to use historic rhymes in their words, understanding that they would need different pronunciations when read together.
Let the Irish vessel lie,
Emptied of its poetry.
Today, “lie” and “poetry” don’t rhyme, but he depended on the reader’s understanding that they used to rhyme to make the scheme work. Interestingly, when Auden read the poem, he did not change the pronunciation of “poetry” to make it rhyme with “lie.”
Examples of Eye Rhymes in Poetry
The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope
‘The Rape of the Lock’ is Alexander Pope’s most famous poem. It is a heroic narrative that was first published in May 1712 in Miscellaneous Poems and Translations. It was finally republished in its five-canto form in 1714. It helped contribute to the rise of what’s known as the “mock-heroic.” This kind of poem elevates and then criticizes something socially important but meaningless in the broader scheme of things. In this case, Pope compares a small, fairly meaningless incident to the world of the gods. In the third canto of ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ there is a good example of an eye rhyme. Here are four of the lines from the first stanza:
Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Of foreign tyrants and of nymphs at home;
Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea.
In this excerpt, it’s clear that Pope is using two examples of eye rhymes, “foredoom” and “home,” as well as “obey” and “tea.” It’s easy to shift one’s pronunciation to make these words rhyme, but it would be very uncommon to rhyme them in contemporary English.
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In this well-loved poem, the speaker asks his lover if he should compare them to a “summer’s day.” He immediately decides this isn’t a good enough comparison and uses it to emphasize the listener’s beauty. In these famous opening lines, there is a good example of an eye rhyme.
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.
The poet uses the word “temperate” at the end of line two and “date” at the end of line four. These two words look like they should rhyme, but they don’t. They do add to the overall rhythm of the poem, though.
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Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Undoubtedly one of Shelley’s most famous poems, ‘Ode to the West Wind,’ is a beautiful poem in the form of an ode. It was written in Cascine Woods, outside of Florence, and published in 1820. The poem focuses on death’s destruction and the power of natural elements. The speaker talks to the wind, asking it to take him to the afterlife, where he hopes there’s a new world waiting for him. In the last stanza of the poem, Shelley uses an example of eye rhyme. Here are the lines:
Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
There are some investing examples here. “Hearth” and “earth” look like perfect rhymes but depending on one’s emphasis, they might just be categorized as half-rhymes. Then, there is “mankind,” “wind,” and “behind.” The first two rhyme but “wind” does not. This sets it apart and then further emphasizes the natural force’s importance in the overall poem.
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Why Do Writers Use Eye Rhymes?
Writers use eye rhyme when they want to create visual unity or allude to a rhyme without actually creating one. Sometimes, these rhymes have simply stopped rhyme, such as in the examples from Pope’s ‘The Rape of the Lock.’ Other times, writers know the words don’t rhyme but let them fall into the rhyme scheme anyway. They can add to the overall rhythm of the poem in a new and creative way. Such is the case with ‘Ode to the West Wind.’
Related Literary Terms
- Lyric Poem: a musically inclined, short verse that speaks on poignant and powerful emotions.
- Alliteration: a technique that makes use of repeated sounds at the beginning of multiple words, grouped together. It is used in poetry and prose.
- Cadence: the natural rhythm of a piece of text, created through a writer’s selective arrangement of words, rhymes, and the creation of meter.
- Ballad: a kind of verse, sometimes narrative in nature, often set to music and developed from 14th and 15th-century minstrelsy.
- Blank Verse: a kind of poetry that is written in unrhymed lines but with a regular metrical pattern.
- Free Verse: lines are unrhymed, and there are no consistent metrical patterns. But, that doesn’t mean it is entirely without structure.
- Rhyme Scheme of Sonnets: usually conform to one of two different rhyme schemes, those connected to the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan sonnet forms.