AAAA, ABBA, XXA, and so on. I am not talking about pop groups or acronyms here but rhyme schemes. Well, of course, the title does indicate that in bold letters 🙂 But I do tend to repeat myself a bit; and that was my initial plan for this letter – the refrain! As I pondered some more, I realized I would like to share a little bit of everything about rhyme scheme instead. The what and how and why parts, and more.
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Rhyme Scheme: A Little Bit of Everything About It
What is Rhyme Scheme?
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of sound found at the end of lines of a poem or a song. It is referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme, starting with the letter ‘A’; lines designated the same letter rhyme with each other. So, in other words, it is the (sound) structure of end words of a verse or line that a poet follows (or creates) when writing a poem.
In general, if a rhyme scheme is noted in a poem, it most often is formal verse (where the form follows both rhyme and meter).
The word rhyme itself, which means, “agreement in terminal sounds,” has its origins in the1560s, and derives from Middle English ryme, rime (c. 1200). While the term ‘rhyme scheme’ itself is fairy modern; it was first known to be used as a literary term in 1931. [Source]
Some More Points to Note
Note that rhyme schemes are used only to indicate end rhyme (or rhymes at the end of lines). So poetic forms can have rhyming elsewhere and not have a rhyme scheme (internal rhyme or other random rhyme patterns).
Another point to note about rhyme schemes are that they can apply to single stanzas or to the whole poem. And depending on the same (stanza vs poem) as well as the specific rhyme scheme being followed, notation of the rhyme scheme can change (more on notation below)
And then are poetic forms that have very distinct, pre-determined, complex rhyme schemes. Like different types of sonnets (the Shakespearean Sonnet for one, among other sonnets) or the sestina.
More Specifics About Rhyme Scheme Notation
Rhyme scheme notation simply shows the structure the poet is following (or using) in the poem using a string of letters, where rhyming lines are indicated by the same letter. While there are no specific rules of how to write notations, here are some generally followed ones.
Note that the below are simply random examples to help understand the notations themselves; & not a complete list by any means.
- ABABAB (or ababab): This ‘continuous string of letters’ notation indicates a six-line stanza (or six-line poem) where the alternate lines rhyme. Using the same logic, ABAB can indicate a four-line stanza with an alternating rhyme scheme. And if each stanza in the poem has a different alternate rhyme scheme, that would be indicated as ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, …….
- AAAB AAAB: A space between the notation strings, indicates two four-line stanzas where the first three lines share the same rhyme, while the fourth lines rhyme with each other [this example is to show that a space between notation strings indicates the breaks between stanzas in the poem]
- XXXA XXXA: The letter ‘X’ is used to indicate unrhymed lines. So this notation will mean that the first three rhymes across stanzas do not need to rhyme; while the fourth lines across them share the ‘A’ rhyme [this example is to show the use of ‘X’ for unrhymed lines within a poem with a rhyme scheme; note that not all lines need to rhyme to have a rhyme scheme; there such needs to be a pattern of some sorts]
- AabB AabB: When poems use refrains (a whole line is repeated verbatim), then the notation uses a combination of upper and lower case letters, as in this case. So here the first and fourth lines across the stanzas are repeated as is; while the first and second lines rhyme with each other; and the third and fourth lines share a rhyme
- Note that wikipedia also mentions another reason why the upper/lower case combination notations are used; when the poem uses both masculine* (upper case notation) and feminine** (lower case notation) end rhymes.
Notes on Rhymes
Masculine and Feminine Rhymes
A *masculine rhyme consists of a single stressed syllable (eg: car and far); while the **feminine rhyme is a rhyme consisting of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed rhyming syllable (eg: brother and mother)
Perfect and Imperfect Rhymes
The rhyme scheme notation is used regardless of whether the rhyme is a perfect rhyme (like spring and bring; or flowery and showery) or an imperfect one (mellow and hollow; or moan and moon). Perfect rhymes are also called full rhymes or true rhymes; while imperfect rhymes are sometimes called near-rhyme, half rhymes, slant rhymes, or lazy rhymes!
What are the Different Types of Rhyme Schemes?
Here are some of the more common rhyme schemes (This list is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of rhyme schemes. Different poetic forms employ rhyme schemes that are specific and unique to themselves, like the sestina mentioned earlier)
- Alternate rhyme: ABAB (Simply means alternate lines rhyme; see also traditional rhyme)
- Ballade: A medieval poetic form with the rhyme scheme that goes like this; three stanzas of ABABBCBC followed by BCBC (While the ballad is different, it does derive from the ballade)
- Chain rhyme: Goes something like this — ABA BCB CDC DAD (or DED)
- Couplet: AA BB CC and so on (A pair of successive rhymed lines; each line can be a separate sentence, or the first line can run-on into the second)
- Enclosed or Sandwiched rhyme: ABBA (used in quatrains)
- Limerick: This fun, popular poetic form made famous by Edward Lear has a rhyme scheme of AABBA
- Mono-rhyme: AAAA (all the lines in the poem or stanza rhyme)
- Simple 4-line rhyme: ABCB (Certainly a very popular rhyme scheme!)
- Traditional rhyme: ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH…(Many nursery rhymes use this rhyme scheme
Or of course, you could make your very own rhyme scheme too!!! Do share it with us if you have done so or plan to!!
Poets use rhyme schemes (or rhyming itself) for various reasons. For instance, a rhyme scheme helps to create a rhythm and to remember. It also helps to highlight any main ideas or the poem’s central theme in a more effective way. Let us look at how the rhyme scheme can help with some of these (and more)
Rhyme schemes help provide a musicality to verses. The repetition, order and patterns in poems with rhyme schemes allows for harmony and rhythm. Conversely, poets can break from the rhyme scheme to provide a jarring rhythm if they so desire.
It is no wonder that so many nursery rhymes are set to tunes; and both rhyme and rhythm help us enjoy these poems and songs.
R(hym)e-member Or Rhymember!!
Well, what I am trying to say is that rhymes help us remember!! Rhyming schemes (some more than others) add a sense of predictability to the poem. This acts almost like an inbuilt mnemonic device. Which is why nursery rhymes as well other poems/books for children often use such rhyme schemes (like alternating or coupled rhyme schemes). It helps us remember the verses.
Rhylate (well, Relate) Ideas and Reinforce Emotions
Rhyme schemes help us relate different parts of the poem. Poets can use the rhyming words for lines across stanzas to tie ideas between them; or to reinforce those ideas each time by use of the rhyme scheme. And refrains kind of do double duty with these concepts.
Again, conversely, like with the rhythm example earlier, poets can intentionally break from the rhyme scheme to give a jolt to the reader who is expecting the predictable “something” and instead give them the cool or shocking unexpected!
And Then the Rest
Poets use certain traditional rhyme schemes because they want to identify with that time or write in the style of those poets; eg: Shakespearean Sonnets. Rhyme schemes provide a framework of a sort that helps poets define their word choices; and also gives them a challenge at the same time to work within that framework as they present their ideas.
How to Find the Rhyme Scheme in a Poem or Song
Step 1: Enjoy the Poem
Read through the entire poem / song quietly, and then out loud, just for the sake of reading it!
Step 2: Start Looking at What Rhymes
Read through again, this time, paying attention to the words and sounds. As you go through each line, write a letter next to each one (start off with ‘A’ first). If the next line ends with the same (or very similar) sound, then use ‘A’ for it as well. When you see a line that doesn’t rhyme with the first line, label it ‘B’. Continue this process; labelling every new ending sound with a new letter, and rhyming sounds with matching letters.
- When you want to figure out the rhyme scheme in a poem or song, you start with the end! And be sure to pay attention to the sounds at the end rather than the spelling. For example, while “blue”, “chew”, and “do” are spelled differently, they sound the same; so they are rhymes. On the other hand, “do” and “no” do not rhyme. So, the sound is the better indicator; and the best way to find out is by reading the poem or song out loud.
- If you find that you are going through the letters of the alphabet rather quickly, or do not see any specific pattern, then maybe there is no rhyme scheme and the poem is written in free verse form.
- On the other hand, if you do see a pattern, but also see a few lines that are not rhyming with any other line, then you could go back and mark them as ‘X’ – unrhymed lines within the poem which still has a rhyme scheme (like the XXXA XXXA earlier; or XAXB XAXB).
Step 3: Challenge Step
Let us use an example to help understand this better:
Twinkle, twinkle, little star, —-> A
How I wonder what you are! —-> A
Up above the world so high, —-> B
Like a diamond in the sky. —-> B
When the blazing sun is gone, —> C
When he nothing shines upon, —-> C
Then you show your little light, —-> D
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night. —-> D
As you can see above, this beloved rhyme has the rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD and the rest of the verses continue with rhymed couplets; changing end sounds for each couplet as the poem continues.
h/t, References, and Further Reading:
- Wikipedia page on Rhyme Scheme and perfect/imperfect rhymes
- LitChart’s Rhyme Scheme post
- An article about how to use rhyme schemes (with examples/details) to write song “Lyrics That’ll Blow Your Fans Away!” (MusicOnaMission)
- More about rap and rhyme here!
Red, White, and Whole
Title: Red, White, and Whole
Author: Rajani LaRocca
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Children’s Verse Novels (8 – 12 years)
Publisher: Quill Tree Books (February 2nd 2021)
Source: Library copy
Description: An #ownvoices novel in verse about an Indian American girl whose life is turned upside down when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia.
My Current Thoughts
This #ownvoices book reached out to me in so many ways. While I nor my kids can speak to the exact same experiences as the main character in this book, Reha or even Poonam (her mom), so much (well, most) of the book resonates with me strongly.
I found myself nodding my head in recognition as LaRocca talks about mustard seeds in one chapter and says of them “But I am stunned by the world of taste / in something so tiny.” Or recalling the joy of writing and receiving letters when she says of aerogrammes (remember them!), “And a small piece of home has flown across the world / and landed in Amma’s hands.” And of course, reading familiar addresses for relationships, like Amma for mom, or thatha for grandfather, as well as seeing India and America through the eyes of Reha is an experience all its own.
While this book talks about being torn between India and America, anyone who is torn between identities can relate to Reha. I loved Reha (well, her parents, family, and friends too): she is brave yet afraid; she is Indian, yet American; she is someone who loves cheese pizza and rasam; and all those wonderful things a blend of beautiful cultures bring about in people. And I loved watching her grow as the story progressed.
Heart-warming, heart-breaking, heart-healing, a tugging-at-heart-strings, leaving you with all the feels beautiful novel in verse!! A must read that explores identity & cultures, family & friendships, love & loss, and life & all that it includes!
Get It Here
- The Perfect Starter Kit Series to Great Poets
- The January Children
- While I Was Away (A book I need to review yet)
And Now, the End of This Post
Dear reader, as always, and always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as recommendations. Have you read the featured books or any similar reads? Do you have a favorite rhyme scheme when you write poems?
The AtoZ Challenges
You can find all my A2Z Challenge Posts here.