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Poet's Tool Box: Rhyme

Updated on December 6, 2012

Rhyme is a tool that has defined poetry in the minds of many people, yet poetry is not necessarily defined by rhyme. Poetry does not have to rhyme. Indeed, I know of several poetry editors who will not publish poems that rhyme.

When the poet writes rhyme, s/he competes with the likes of Shakespeare, Keats, Byron and Shelley. Rhyme has been done so long so well that it is difficult to be original with it. Yet rhyme is powerful because it is memorable. “A stitch in time saves nine.” Catchy. “If you sew your jeans soon enough, they won’t rip more.” Not so much.

The best simple advice I can give about rhyme is to use it very carefully. Most editors will not look for your rhyme scheme unless you use one. Then it had better be iron clad. Avoid obvious cliché rhymes like, “love / dove” or “love / above”, “heart / apart” and “smile / mile”.

A great way to destroy a poem is to force it to rhyme. One of my teachers used to call it, “rhyme lunge” - forcing the end of a line to rhyme with another line in a less than graceful manner, thus…

The summer heat is soothed by balmy breezes
While I am soothed by ice cubes when they freezes

You see it really points to a lack of planning.

As an editor, I like to see rhyme that seems to occur naturally in a poem, as in these lines from Louise Bogan’s “Tears in Sleep”:

“ … In the false light, false grief in my happy bed,
A labor of tears, set against joy’s undoing.
I would not wake at your word, I had tears to say.
I clung to the bars of the dream and they were said,
… “

The above holds two examples of how to use rhyme in a subtle way to the great advantage of your poetry. The first example is the last word in the first and fourth lines of the excerpt, “bed” and “said”. The second example is in the subtle internal structure of rhyme that further ties the first and last lines together, “In the false light, false grief” and “I clung to the bars of the dream…”

Writing poetry is a craft that demands close attention to detail. Read your work aloud, to yourself and to others. If it rhymes, do the rhymes sound natural or forced? If they sound forced, now might be a good time to remember that poetry does not have to rhyme to be poetry.


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    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      It's wonderful that you are always challenging yourself as a writer and poet, Barbara.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      I finally attempted an English-style poem in my William Blake hub. I find English poetry so subtle and challenging. I cannot excuse my poem due to foreign language incompatibilities, for example. But it is always fun to test the waters. Even experimenting, I learn much. Thanks for this hub. It is so painful to read serious, rhyming poetry that is not, as you said, "iron clad!" Playing with it is one thing. Presenting it as a serious work is something different.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Rhyming well is hard work, that's for sure. But a good rhyme that feels fresh is very powerful, therefore worthwhile to pursue.

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      To me,it's difficult to rhyme with the intensity or drama that so many poets cherish in their writing.;)

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      A good tip to remember.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Rhyming is an excellent vehicle for humorous poems. There is a great tradition of comedic poems that rhyme by Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker and many others. The problem with rhyming is when it results in inadvertent comedy :)

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

      Hi Tom. It seems to me that when attempting to write humourous poems, rhyming would surely be an acceptable vehicle. I have never had any advice in this area, so your hubs are sure to be of help. Thanks

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Sounds like you have a good rhyming policy, Karen! I love that this hub is attracting so many poets. I'll have to write another.

    • karengibsonroc profile image

      Karen Gibson Roc 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      awesome!! hub..being a poet-- i myself don't like to rhyme too much...i have my time for rhyme:) but it really isn't what fills my pages:):)

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Many editors like poems that rhyme, but some actually say they don't want to see it. It goes to how subjective editing is. Personally I never reject anyone for rhyming, only for rhyming badly. I am glad you chose to comment, Doug. I enjoy your work.

    • profile image

      Doug Turner Jr. 6 years ago

      Interesting. I was under the impression that editors were partial to poems that rhyme, but your examples of forced rhymes were good indicators of why they are not.

      I love the villanelle form and sometimes the terza rima; those two help me find the format and focus needed to complete a rhyme poem. Otherwise it just feels scattered and forced. Thanks for the insight.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Christopher, thank you. As Poetry Editor at Eye On Life I see all levels of poets. Sometimes I see poems that I wouldn't call poetry. But the poet calls it poetry so I must respect that. I respect everyone who writes something and calls it poetry. Because the biggest, most avid and loyal audience for poetry is poets, of course! Welcome all and be supportive of those who want to improve.

      Thank you, To Start Again :) I would also like to say that it is good exercise to work with rhyming because it builds skills. It can be hard work to put together a poem in which the rhyme scheme actually works. You may not end up with anything you want to publish, but you'll learn a lot.

    • To Start Again profile image

      Selina Kyle 6 years ago

      This is a great hub, Tom. I don't use rhyme hardly at all any more when I write poetry. I used to a lot but these days I tend to avoid it. You are very right in that it can't sound forced. There's nothing worse than what could have been a beautiful poem ruined by forced rhymes. I guess you have another title to add to your list...Professor :)

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      That is a wise approach, Juneaukid.

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 6 years ago from Vermont, USA

      As you point out, when rhyming one must maintain a rhyme scheme. And, I would add, pick a meter and stick to it.

      Nothing is more jolting or upsetting to me when reading a poem than to stumble over a suddenly un-syncopated line or a convoluted construction created to force a rhyme.

      The gift of a true artist is the seemingly effortless method of expression with which they share their vision.

      The "poets" who toss off a new composition every couple of hours, complete with misspellings, typos and no discernible rhythm, I refer to as "Quick Print Poets"...who jot down a line, click Enter and never look back.

      Reading one's poetry aloud is a wonderful suggestion too, as poetry should sing, and the ear is the best judge.

      This was a very good hub with valuable and valid advice.


    • juneaukid profile image

      Richard Francis Fleck 6 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      I enjoyed your hub--the only time a use rhyme in a poem is occasionally or as internal rhyme within the line.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      I like to rhyme



      I'm not saying not to do it. I'm just saying it's dangerous - like running with scissors.

    • kathryn1000 profile image

      kathryn1000 6 years ago from London

      I started off with non-rhyming poetry but now I seem to be drawn by rhymes.I suppose it's satisfying like music if it works.Anyhow this is useful advice.Thanks.

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Love your work, Micky! Thanks!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 6 years ago

      Yo Tom! It's like a game of chess sometimes. You have to get thoughts together, then plot to see where it all goes. Comedy is like that too. A comedian can work really hard to set up a joke miles away. Great write!

    • Tom Rubenoff profile image

      Tom Rubenoff 6 years ago from United States

      Since the list is endless

      The answer is no, I guess


      There must be one, I suspect.

      I will attempt to go and fetch.

      In the mean time, one of my favorite books, "How to be Well Versed In Poetry", has a big section on rhyme, mainly dealing with the different ways to do it. And there are, of course, rhyming dictionaries to help the poet find less offensive rhymes than the ones they wrote in the first draft.

    • Randy Behavior profile image

      Randy Behavior 6 years ago from Near the Ocean

      Thanks Teach! Since you titled this Part 1, I happily look forward to more. Is there a suggested list of ryhmes to avoid located somewhere?