Alternate Rhyme

Ahl-tur-nit Rime

An alternate rhyme is a patterned rhyme scheme that’s popular in classic and contemporary poetry. It occurs when the poet repeats two end sounds in an alternate pattern. For example, ABAB CDCD.

E.g. E.g. Christina Rossetti's 'Winter Rainuses a rhyming pattern of ABAB and is a good example of an alternate rhyme scheme.

The rhyme scheme is incredibly common and is often used by first-time poetry writers as a great introduction to composing a simple, easy-to-read rhyme scheme. But, at the same time, it’s also used by poets who have been writing for their entire lives are whose work is read around the world. 

Alternate Rhyme Definition and Examples

Alternate Rhyme Definition

An alternate rhyme is a pattern found in poetry in which the author intentionally alternates between two end sounds. Usually, the pattern changes from stanza to stanza.

For example, the first stanza rhymes ABAB and the second rhymes CDCD. The same pattern repeats with differently rhymed words. There are innumerable examples of this rhyme scheme seen throughout the history of poetry. 

Examples of Alternate Rhymes in Poetry 

Jerusalem: And did those feet in ancient time by William Blake

This William Blake poem is a great example of how a poet might use alternate rhymes for one or more stanzas but choose a different pattern at other times. The third stanza of this four-line poem reads: 

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:

Bring me my arrows of desire:

Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!

Bring me my Chariot of fire!

Here, the poet uses two different end sounds in lines 1-4. The first and third lines rhyme with “gold” and “unfold,” with the second and fourth lines rhyming with the words “desire” and “fire.” 

In contrast, the other stanzas of this famous poem use a different rhyme scheme: ABCB. For instance, stanza one uses the words “time” and “god” in stanzas one and three and “green” and “seen” in lines two and four. 

Read more William Blake poems

Sea Fevers by Agnes Wathall

This, the most famous of Wathall’s verses, is a fantastic example of a standard alternate rhyme scheme. The poem uses a consistent pattern of ABAB throughout. This rhyme scheme is particularly effective in this poem due to its subject matter

The poet discusses the ocean, albatrosses, the sky, the moment of the water, and more. The “tossing” movement of the ship is mimicked by the ABAB rhyme scheme. It moves the reader back and forth from one sound to the next as though they, too, are on the water. 

Here are the first four lines: 

No ancient mariner I, 

Hawker of public crosses, 

Snaring the passersby

With my necklace of albatrosses. 

The poet rhymes the words “I” and “passerby” in lines one and three and “crosses” and “albatrosses” in this stanza. Amazingly, the poet chose to use the same exact end sounds throughout the rest of the poem (something that’s quite uncommon). The next stanza rhymes with “eye” and “ply” in lines one and three and “mosses” and “glosses” in lines two and four. Finally, stanza three uses “sky” and “lie” (maintaining the same vowel sound from stanza one) and “losses” and “tosses” (using the same examples of sibilance). 

Explore Agnes Wathall’s poetry

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost 

This short Frost poem uses a clear ABAB rhyme scheme in its two quatrains. The poet starts with the lines: 

The way a crow

Shook down on me

The end of line one, “crow,” rhymes with the end of line three, “snow.” The end of line two, “me,” rhymes with the end of line four, “tree.” These simple end sounds are reflected in the poet’s use of clear, colloquial syntax. The poem uses these final two lines: 

And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

The perfect ABAB rhyme scheme gives the poem a simplistic and uplifting tone as it brings readers back to the same sound over and over again. 

Discover more Robert Frost poems


What is an ABAB rhyme scheme example?

The ABAB rhymes theme is an example of a popular rhyme scheme known as an alternate rhyme. It’s been used throughout the history of poetry. It can be seen as the solitary pattern of a poem and as a part of a longer rhyme scheme (like a Shakespearean sonnet). 

What is an AABB rhyme called?

The AABB rhyme scheme is known as different things by different writers. The most common name for this pattern is a double couplet. It’s another very common rhyme scheme found in poetry. 

What is a four-line stanza called? 

A four-line stanza, or a four-line poem, is known as a quatrain. This stanza length is incredibly popular. It allows writers enough space to create a unique rhyme scheme (or utilize a popular one like the alternate rhyme scheme) or employ a clear metrical pattern. 

What is an ABAB rhyme scheme known as? 

The ABAB rhyme scheme is known as an alternate rhyme or an interlocking rhyme. This refers to the way that the first end sound is surrounded by a different end sound on both sides. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Masculine Rhyme: a literary device that occurs when the stressed syllables at line endings rhyme together.
  • Leonine Rhyme: utilizes 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.
  • Rhyme Scheme: the pattern of rhyme that’s used in a poem. It corresponds with the end sounds that feature in lines of verse.
  • Exact Rhyme: a literary device that’s used in poetry. It occurs when the writer uses the same stressed vowel or consonant sounds.
  • Tail Rhyme: a specific pattern of end-rhymes and repetition used in poetry. For example, AABCCB or AABCCCB.

Other Resources 

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