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Tail Rhyme

A tail rhyme refers to a specific pattern of end-rhymes and repetition used in poetry. For example, AABCCB or AABCCCB.

Tail rhymes are simple and interesting to use. While still seen today in contemporary poetry, they were most popular in the Middle Ages and French and English language poetry

Over the centuries, this rhyme form has developed into numerous different stanzaic patterns. Sometimes, the stanzas are six lines long (the shortest possible tail rhyme form), and in other instances, they are far longer, reaching eight, ten, twelve, or more lines. 

As long as a writer follows the basic rules of tail rhymes, there is no limit to the number of stanzas they can use, the length of those stanzas, the use of meter, subject, or more.

Tail Rhyme Definition and Examples


Tail Rhyme Definition

The term “tail rhyme” refers to a specific use of end rhymes in poetry. It occurs when a poet repeats the same end sound after two or more lines that use a different end sound. While this sounds confusing, the rhyme scheme becomes far easier to understand once one sees possible patterns written out. 

Besides this simple alternating pattern, a few additional rules govern the use of tail rhymes. One of the best-known examples is the Burns stanza, popularized by Scottish poet Robert “Rabbie” Burns. This can be seen in one cited example below.

Types of Tail Rhymes 

Below are a few possible ways that writers might use tail rhymes. Each pattern follows the same basic principle. The “B” rhyme is repeated after a different end sound is used twice (the “A,” “C,” or “D” sound). 

  • AABCCB
  • AAABCCCB
  • AABCCCB
  • AAABCCB
  • AABCCBDDB 
  • AABCCCBCCCB


Examples of Tail Rhymes 

To a Mouse by Robert Burns 

The best-known tail rhyme pattern was popularized by Robert Burns. He demonstrates the pattern of the “Burns Stanza” in his well-known piece ‘To a Mouse.’ Within this poem, he uses the end-rhyme pattern AAABAB. Here is the first stanza: 

Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie, 

O, what a panic’s in thy breastie! 

Thou need na start awa sae hasty, 

Wi’ bickerin brattle! 

I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee 

Wi’ murd’ring pattle! 

The words “beastie,” “breastie,” and “hasty” all rhyme and are described as “A” rhymes in the pattern. Then, Burns includes the first different end sound, “brattle.” It is repeated at the end of the poem with “pattle” after the use of “thee” another repetition of the “A” rhyme. He uses two of his famous Burns stanzas and examples of iambs within this poem. 

Read more Robert Burns poems

Lights Out by Edward Thomas 

Within ‘Lights Out,’ which was first published in 1917, Thomas uses the simplest and best-known example of a tail rhyme. Within his five stanza poem, the poet repeats the pattern AABCCB. Here is the first stanza: 

I have come to the borders of sleep, 

The unfathomable deep

Forest where all must lose

Their way, however straight, 

Or winding, soon or late;

They cannot choose. 

The poet rhymes the words “sleep” and “deep” and then uses “lose,” which later rhymes with “choose” after the use of two new rhymes, “straight” and “late.” 

Explore more Edward Thomas poems

The Undertaker’s Horse by Rudyard Kipling

Kipling’s ‘The Undertaker’s Horse’ is another example of a poem that uses a pattern of tail rhymes. The piece depicts a horse as a malevolent grim reaper, always ready to take life, and uses a pattern of AABCCB throughout. Here is the first stanza: 

The eldest son bestrides him,

And the pretty daughter rides him,

And I meet him oft o’ mornings on the Course;

And there kindles in my bosom

An emotion chill and gruesome

As I canter past the Undertaker’s Horse.

Among other examples of repetition, the poet uses the pattern AABCCB in these lines. The “A” rhymes are “him” and “him,” the “B” rhymes are “Course” and “Horse,” and the “C” rhymes are “bosom” and “gruesome.” 

Discover more Rudyard Kipling poems.  

FAQs 

What is a tail rhyme?

The term “tail rhyme” refers to a specific use of repetition in poetry. When a poet repeats the same end-sound alternating between couplets or tersets, they create a tail rhyme. For example, the following patterns: AABCCB, ABCCCB, AABCCCB. 

Why do poets use tail rhymes? 

Poets use tail rhymes when they want to utilize a structured and repetitive rhyme scheme. These patterns were most popular during the Middle Ages in French and English poetry. But, there are numerous examples throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

What do you call the ABAB rhyme?

ABAB is known as an alternate rhyme. This refers to the fact that the poet alternates between one end-sound and the next. The fact that both end sounds are repeated is crucial to creating an alternate rhyme.

What is ABBA rhyme scheme?

ABBA is known as an enclosed rhyme. This is because the rhyming couplet is enclosed between different end sounds. The words used at the ends of lines one and four are different from those used in lines two and three. 

What is an AABB poem?

A poem that uses AABB could be described as a poem composed of rhyming couplets. These couplets are contained within four-line stanzas, known as quatrains


Related Literary Terms

  • Burns Stanza: named for Scottish poet Robert Burns who popularized its use. It is a six-line stanza form that uses a rhyme scheme of AAABAB, and lines of tetrameter and dimeter.
  • Hymn Stanza: uses a rhyme scheme of ABCB and alternates between iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
  • Onegin Stanza: or Pushkin sonnet, is a stanza form invented and popularized by Alexander Pushkin in his 1825-1832 novel, Eugene Onegin. 
  • Ottava Rima: is used to describing a particular type of stanza in poetry. It uses eight iambic lines and follows a rhyme scheme of ABABABCC.
  • Alliterative Meter: a type of verse that focuses on the alliteration as a way of creating a metrical structure. Alliteration is used rather than accents or rhymes.
  • Blank Verse: a kind of poetry that is written in unrhymed lines but with a regular metrical pattern.


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