ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Counting Syllables to Cure Doggerel in Rhyming Poetry

Updated on December 16, 2012
A poet at work
A poet at work

doggerel: adj., loosely styled and irregular in measure especially for burlesque or comic effect; marked by triviality or inferiority

doggerel: n., poetry that is poorly written and that often is not meant to be taken seriously

Doggerel poetry is uneven, inexact, and generally unfocused rhyming poetry where consistent meter is often an afterthought. Many poets, including me, write doggerel, often without meaning to do so, especially when we attempt to rhyme.

I had a professor tell me in college, “If you rhyme and you want to be published, you must follow all the rules!” He ordered us to use "even" lines (six, eight, ten, or twelve syllables), perfect rhymes (“bee” and “knee,” not “bee” and “eventually”), and familiar ABAB or AABB rhyme schemes. I wasn’t always successful, and I often felt restricted, but my poetry smoothed out and became much easier to recite.

Curing doggerel is as simple as counting syllables. Look at the following nonsense rhyme and count the syllables in each line:


Billy and I went to the fair, (8)

and while we were there, (5)

I shot and killed a hairy grizzly bear (10)

on a dare. (3)


Though the poem employs perfect rhymes, it sounds strangely like nonsense poetry Ogden Nash might have written. Because the meter is off, the poem sounds off. If I revise the poem to have consistent eight-syllable lines, it might look something like this:


Billy and I went to the fair, (8)

and while we were frolicking there, (8)

I shot and killed a grizzly bear (8)

because I can’t resist a dare. (8)


Though I doubt this poem will ever have any literary merit, at least it sounds smoother. Look at an example a student wrote:


She is my sun,

when life is gray.

She is my voice,

when I have so little to say.


I pointed out that he had written three lines with four syllables followed by one line of eight syllables. He blinked at me. I made him count his syllables. “Oh,” he said. I suggested he shoot for eight syllables in each line. He frowned at me, rolled his eyes, and eventually composed something much better:


She is the moon, the stars, the sun,

when clouds collide, when skies are gray.

She is my words, my sighs, my voice

when I am mute, nothing to say.


When he recited the poem to his class, his peers gave him a collective “Ahh.” Another student tried to capture her depression:


Rain streams down my windows.

Worms wriggle in puddles. What’s that smell?

Petals fall off all the flowers.

Greetings from my depression in hell.


I had her count her syllables. She shrugged. “It’s close enough,” she said. “It could be better,” I said. “Add two syllables to the first line and remove one syllable from lines two and four, and I bet you can find a rhyme for the word ‘windows.” She sighed, scratched and added, rewrote it, and showed it to me:


Rain, God’s tears, stream down the windows,

worms writhe in puddles (ozone smell),

petals fall from a lonely rose—

dark greetings from depression’s hell.


Not only did she smooth out her meter, she depersonalized her poem so her words could apply to any reader’s depression. She turned a deeply personal piece of doggerel into a publishable poem simply by adding and subtracting words and syllables.

In 2001, I read the following “poem” advertising an “Aquaroid Fish” on a McDonald’s Happy Meal bag:


It doesn’t have feet or hands, (7)

But it moves in water and on land. (9)

Clear fins and tail make it swim. (7)

Put it in water and watch it skim. (9)


I know this type of poem appeals to children, who don’t usually care about perfect rhymes or meter, but a somewhat clever adult (perhaps in the marketing department) wrote it. I couldn’t leave it alone, so I “fixed” it right there on the bag:


Aquaroid has no feet or hands,

yet it moves through watery lands.

Clear fins and strong tail make it swim.

Drop in water and watch it skim.


Perhaps the current sellers of “Aquaroid” merchandise on eBay could make use of this corrected rhyme.

If you write a specific type of rhyming poetry and want readers worldwide to take your poetry seriously, you must follow all the standard and accepted rules of that specific type. A sonnet is more than just fourteen lines and a couplet, and a villanelle is more than nineteen lines, five tercets, and a quatrain. Learn and follow the rules. And if you learn to count the syllables in your lines of rhyming poetry and keep the syllable count consistent, you’ll soon be counting many more satisfied readers.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • multiculturalsoul profile imageAUTHOR

      JJ Murray 

      5 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      To be honest, I have to count as I write. I have thrown away so many lines I thought were great because they didn't add up or have the proper rhythm. I want anything I write to sound poetic aloud, so sacrificing a syllable or two here and there is no great hardship.

    • coffeegginmyrice profile image

      Marites Mabugat-Simbajon 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      This is really useful and helpful, J. J. Murray. Thank you.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)