When Should Poetry Rhyme?

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Not all poetry rhymes.

It’s common to hear readers criticize poems that don’t rhyme, suggesting, perhaps, that the poets concerned were insufficiently skilled. But a great deal of poetry in the English language doesn’t employ rhyme. Blank verse, for example – by definition unrhymed – was a form of poetry often favoured by Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats and Tennyson amongst many others. 

On the other hand, a great deal of poetry does employ rhyme. Rhyme is one of the key ways in which a poet can imbue verse with a sense of structure and meaning. The ear delights in hearing patterns of rhyming words; it’s one way in which the language of a poem sounds “special”. Rhyming can help accent key words and ideas. But if rhyme is used too heavily, there is a danger that it becomes sing-song and facile. A nursery-rhyme rather than a poem. Avoiding this whilst still creating effective, “musical” verse is one of the key skills a poet has to acquire. 

At some point in the creation of each poem, the poet has to make decisions about rhythm, rhyme, form, whether to use verses and so forth. In each case, the decisions made will have implications for how the poem reads. In a more musical form such as a ballad, or in a piece of comic verse, strong, regular rhymes will probably work well. In more serious poems, heavy rhymes might begin to sound forced and ridiculous. 

A poet should not feel that a poem has to rhyme and that what they’re creating isn’t poetry if it doesn’t. But words can’t just be thrown together at random, without deliberation and careful selection. The requirements of the individual poem in question are all that matter. A poem about discord or confusion, for example, might work best with little rhyme. A poem with a more harmonious theme might work best with stronger rhyming. 

In a follow-up post I’ll look at some of the different types of rhyme available to the poet.

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19 thoughts on “When Should Poetry Rhyme?”

  1. I would say poetry should rhyme all the time. To me (because this my personal opinion) if it doesn’t rhyme it’s a story, sometimes a very short story, but still a story.

  2. Looking forward to the follow-up posts on this. 🙂

    Over time I found, personally, that the need and maybe even the desire for that melodic rhyme is not as important as the content and the impact of the message in poetic works.

    Just an observation and thinking out loud. 🙂

  3. Not about rhyming, but I came across this today, about attitudes to poetry:

    Charles Babbage wrote to Alfred Lord Tennyson, quoting this line of Tennyson’s poem:

    ‘Every moment dies a man,/ Every moment one is born’:

    I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world’s population in a state of perpetual equipoise whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that in the next edition of your excellent poem the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:

    ‘Every moment dies a man / And one and a sixteenth is born.’

    I may add that the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre.

    (I hope and assume Babbage was writing tongue-in-cheek.)

  4. Full disclosure: I prefer rhyming poetry, although I write both rhyming and non-rhyming poems.

    It has been my experience that much non-rhyming poetry doesn’t rhyme because the author feels that such form is old-fashioned and pedantic, a restraint on their freedom of expression. Rather than finding beauty in the lyrical format they see it as an imposition. Perhaps they rebel at the idea of their great work (said with tongue inserted slightly in cheek) being fettered by having to obey such stodgy old conventions. And I’m sure that some of them simply don’t want to put in the effort to rhyme (and possibly to [shudder] employ a thesaurus or rhyming dictionary to [bigger shudder] learn new words so they can do so).

  5. I don’t understand. In grammar school I was taught that if it was written in structured timing and with rhymes, it was poetry, and the works were called ‘poems’. If it was free form, it was called prose. Two very different things. Whether these definitions are accurate is almost immaterial. What’s important to me is that the two different types of writing should not share a common name, other than something fairly generic, such as ‘writing’.

    It seems obvious to me that writing with good metering and rhymes is much more difficult than writing prose which sidesteps those challenges. The goals of one are loftier than the other. So the two forms should be differentiated by different names.

    I believe in the saying “Writing poetry without rhymes is like playing tennis without the net.” (Here, out of necessity, I use the word ‘poetry’ where, by my own definition, I perhaps shouldn’t. Forgive me.)

    How correct would it be to place no constraint on the number of syllables in a verse and still call it Haiku?

    We accept as valid “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” Likewise, if we see a daisy and claim that it’s a rose, I say it’s still a daisy.

  6. I do also believe that poems should rhyme, or else it would be like a short story or a thought, though I am nothing to decide weather poems should rhyme or not however when I write poems I like to rhyme, it sounds better in my opinion

  7. Ew I hate poems that rhyme. Just because something rhymes doesnt make it a poem. Putting words at the end of a sentence that rhyme with the line before doesnt mean its art and sometimes its really hard to put the emotion youre feeling into a poem with the thought “i cant write this cause it doesnt rhyme with the other line”

    Am I saying if a poem rhymes it isnt good? No, but a poem has to be REALLLYYYYY GOOOOD if it is able to rhyme and share deeper meanings

    I enjoy slant rhyme poems but I love free verse so much more and it s not a story. A free verse can be a list of metaphors describing how you’re feeling it can be anything. How is that a story tho?

  8. Of course a poem doesn’t have to rhyme. That’s a rather archaic understanding. There is more difference between a short story and a poem than mere rhyme.

    Poems are, by definition, poetic and elevated compositions. They rely on delicate imagery, intricate manipulation of stressed and unstressed syllables (metre) and of line length and combination. Whilst these techniques can be used in short stories, it’s highly unlikely that one would strive to sustain them throughout a story rather than writing a poem instead.

    However, it’s also true that the majority of the most memorable poems do employ rhyme. Like the text says, the ear “delights” in rhyme.

  9. Larry Kort, you opinion is not only invalid, wrong, and retarded, but you are a pathetic excuse for a human being who knows absolutely nothing about literature or, for that matter, poetry. May you rot in hell for life eternal, fuck you.

  10. Part of what makes poetry poetry is it’s lack of rules. I’ve seen some sickening emotional vomit that people call poetry and still, if they feel something when they read it, then it’s poetry.

    That said, there is good poetry and bad poetry. And, there’s a reason rhyming is usually associated with good poetry – it’s harder, but not better. Good rhyming creates sticking power for poetry that non-rhyming doesn’t. When’s the last time you memorized a non-rhyming poem? Or reread a non-rhyming poem. Think about these popular poems and how widely they’re known:

    I don’t think I will ever see
    a poem as lovely as a tree

    I’ve never seen a purple cow.
    I never hope to see one
    But I can tell you anyhow,
    I’d rather see than be one.

    Shakespeare used rhymes in his work to punch out a point or make a memorable couplet:

    My words fly up but my thoughts remain below.
    Words without thoughts never to heaven go.

    But rhyming doesn’t make poetry. I wouldn’t call

    Plop plop fizz fizz
    oh what a relief it is

    poetry but it rhymes quite well (and memorably).

    Poetry is a relatively raw art form which allows the poet to use words instead of paints to express emotion. It’s cheap and doesn’t require much schooling/discipline so people try to make it cheaply and without much discipline expecting their emotions to be enough which usually sucks. Great poetry, whether it rhymes or not, is usually a result of practice, education, and effort.

    …or luck.

  11. I found all the above comments very interesting. I am not a professional writer but I do write. I dont know whether my writing could be called poetry but whatever I have written more than often does rhyme. I am perhaps naive or immature in this field however those who have read my work often feel haunted by my words. I would love for someone to tell me whether there is some type of professional body who I can refer my work to. Perhaps to get a second opinion. Any suggestions?

  12. I agree that poetry without rhyme should be called prose and both poetry and prose put in the category of Creative Writing, along with other forms of Creative Writing such as short stories. I have seen writing that is called poetry but has no rhyme, cadence or meter of any kind. I am just not sure how that can be called poetry. Call me old fashioned if you will!

  13. I personally I enjoy the sound of rhymes but do not think it is more of a poem than one that does not have rhymes. Just because a poem doesn’t have rhymes doesn’t mean it’s not a poem, just that the poet decided to not use that technique to get their point across. Some poems have rhymes that give up meaning in the poem and that doesn’t mean all rhymed poetry is bad, just that that poem isn’t very… favorable. Both rhyming poems and ones that don’t are equally valid and both deserve respect. If you don’t like one type, that’s your opinion, but it doesn’t mean that it is or isn’t poetry. Poetry that doesn’t rhyme is still as valid as your rhyming poem dear rhyme elitists, and poetry that does rhyme doesn’t deserve to be tossed in the fire dear unrhymed elitists. It’s opinion.

  14. Throughout history poetry rhymed
    We differentiate poetry from story by the fact that one would rhyme and the other would not
    Then, Walt Whitman tried something new with TGOL and boom ! someone got an idea, how to make $$ of poetry. Even better! All the horrible work submitted by prominent folk with a good name and family would now have an excuse to be published. Emperor’s New Clothes
    Art isn’t art, until someone says it is, right? It’s what most people believe. So and so at a big name magazine says it’s great, why would say it isn’t? Why sound like a moron?!
    Making $$ off poetry is now easier than ever! Not for poets, for those who publish. They have content!
    It’s much more difficult to find rhyming poems of some worth, so now EVERYONE CAN BE A POET! No skill necessary.
    Let’s make everyone believe poems do not have to rhyme!
    To hell with all greats poets of the past. We’ll have our own great poets! Contest winning, fellowship earning, critically acclaimed poets … As long as we can say the work evokes emotion, were safe!
    Just a Rothko painting. Sure, the sane observer may say: “Wtf, it’s just black color on a huge canvas. A five year old could have painted that!” Perhaps, but an art dealer may beg to differ, baby! An art dealer may be able to describe the painting in ways that may prompt you to question your own sanity. An art dealer may even sell that painting for millions! After all, the standard has changed.
    These days, poetry does not have to rhyme.
    One basically tells a story, that has a begining, middle and an end.
    Only, the sentences
    are split on separate
    (See? What a poem! You would expect me to place the word ‘lines’ next to ‘separate’ but I’m such a skilled poet that I moved the word to the next line. It’s more poetic, that way)
    At times, breaking words that should be together on separate lines, gives you that ‘edge’
    Some words can be replaced with more colorful embellishments from a thesaurus and, AND ! and it doesn’t even matter if a line begins with – AND
    Today’s poetry is basically trash, but don’t you dare say it out loud!
    Many will immediately scold you for it, claiming today’s poetry is better and that you don’t know shit from shiola.
    Keep your modern poems
    I prefer poets of the past.
    I prefer a time, when there was respect for skill.
    Emperor’s New Clothes motto to follow the masses or perish does not appeal to me. Shame on all who participate in this travesty!

  15. Shakespeare, Milton and Tennison wrote prose, not poetry
    You proved in your very first ppgph that poetry should rhyme and prose is free form

    Like Jerry Viviano commented above:
    I don’t understand. In grammar school I was taught that if it was written in structured timing and with rhymes, it was poetry, and the works were called ‘poems’. If it was free form, it was called prose. Two very different things.

    I agree. Poetry should rhyme!

  16. I completely agree that a “poem” should rhyme; a “prose” is expressed more as a short story. When a poem does not rhyme it tends to throw me off the subject, like being thrown from a horse. It appears choppy and unstructured, whereas a poem flows. It has a rhythm to it, and it seems to stay with a subject, like a flowing river. I agree with Jerry Viviano. Does anyone know where poems can be posted for review? I would like to read some, and would also like to submit some.

  17. To Joseph De Marco,
    That is a very rude comment and there is no need to write something like that to a person who is just speaking their opinion.

  18. Joseph De Marco,

    I just have to say that you have said one of the rudest comments to somebody who was just trying to place their opinion.
    There was no need for that sort of language, and you should be ashamed of what you said.

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