Feminine rhyme is also known as “double rhyme.” This kind of rhyme occurs within words that have the same beginnings and the same endings. For example, “measles” and “weasels” in which “wea” and “mea” rhyme as well as “ les” and “els.”
Often, this type of rhyme uses the dactylic meter. This refers to the arrangement of beats in lines of verse. With a dactylic meter, one long syllable comes before two unstressed or short syllables. The word “dactyl” comes from the Greek meaning “finger” and there are three common types of dactylic meter. They are pentameter, hexameter, and a double dactyl. It is the opposite of an anapaest which consists of two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. When one considers the arrangement of feminine rhymes, the latter format (an anapaest) is also a possibility.
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Definition of Feminine Rhyme
A feminine rhyme is a rhyme that consists of two examples of two unstressed syllables. These words will usually end two different lines of poetry, creating a perfect rhyme. Both parts of the words, or the first and second syllables, rhyme with one another. Depending on the words the author uses, this can make a line of poetry feel more musical. It gives the reader a greater number of similar sounds and should therefore increase the euphony. In order to better understand what a feminine rhyme is, it’s important to take the time to understand a masculine rhyme.
The feminine rhyme should be contrasted with the masculine rhyme. The latter refers to the rhyme of the last stressed syllable of two rhyming words. For example, “blow” and “flow” in which “low” and “low” rhyme but “b” and “f” don’t. Other examples include “flames” and “claims” in which “lames” and “laims” rhyme.
Usually, scholars suggest that this type of rhyme got its name, “masculine,” due to the fact that it’s concerned with a single stressed syllable and that the feminine rhyme name followed suit as its opposite. It has nothing to do with the gender of a word. This kind of rhyme can be quite easy to spot if readers know what they’re looking for. There is a great example in ‘Holy Sonnet XIV,’ also known as ‘Batter my hear, three-personed God’ by John Donne. The first lines read:
Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
At the ends of lines one and four was well as two and three readers can spot two different masculine rhymes. They are “you” and “new” and “mend” and “bend.” They are one syllable long and therefore immediately stressed.
Poets use this kind of rhyme in order to add a solid emphasis to a set of words. These words are usually viewed as snappier, stronger, and more memorable. Plus, when placed at the end of a line, they’re a great way to transition from one thought to the next. They’re also the kind of rhymes that readers most likely think of when they consider rhymes.
Examples of Feminine Rhyme in Poetry
‘London, 1802,’ is one of Wordsworth’s best-known sonnets. It was written in 1802 and published five years later in Poems, in Two Volumes. It critiques Wordsworth’s contemporary world and depicts the degradation of London’s societal values. He hopes that one day England can be restored to its former glory. Here are the first eight lines, known as the octet, of Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘London, 1802.’
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
In these lines, the poet looks at England before the industrial revolution and tries to understand what it was like. This was before it lost most of its values. Since, it’s become like “stagnant water” lost to the scourge of modernity. In these lines, he uses words like “bower,” “dower,” and “power,” great examples of feminine rhymes.
Explore William Wordsworth’s poetry.
Those Eyes by Ben Johnson
In this lovely Ben Johnson poem, the poet uses feminine rhymes in order to create a very particular tone. The speaker’s describing a topic that’s close to their heart, using personal emotions and thoughtful language. The use of feminine rhymes in the following lines helps maintain this tone.
Ah! do not wanton with those eyes,
Lest I be sick with seeing;
Nor cast them down, but let them rise,
Lest shame destroy their being.
Ah, be not angry with those fires,
For then their threats will kill me;
Nor look too kind on my desires,
For then my hopes will spill me.
In these stanzas, his skilled use of feminine rhyme helps bring each line to a close before he transitions to the next one. Each of these lines is also end-stopped, helping to keep the poem evenly metered.
Discover more Ben Johnson poems.
Why Do Writers Use Feminine Rhyme?
Writers use feminine rhymes when they want to bring out the musical qualities of their poetry. Unlike masculine rhymes which are simpler and more direct, feminine rhymes are more complicated and have a great number of sounds. This means that hearing the poem read aloud or reading it aloud oneself is more interesting. Plus, when used at the end of a line, the unstressed syllables provide a gentler, less dramatic ending. This can help with transitions and creating a peaceful or quiet conclusion to a poem.
Related Literary Terms
- 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.