5. Sound: Rhythm & Rhyme

SOUND: Rhythm/Meter/Melody/Rhyme. You probably first read a poem to yourself, silently, but most poems also create sense though sounds, unlike concrete poetry, which operates visually. Try reading the poem aloud. Sound brings attention to both individual words that are drawn together through their sound as well as to the overall “feeling” or experience. For example, repetition of sounds like “s,” “m,” “l,” and “f” might encourage a soft or sensuous feeling: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness . . .”

  • What words are drawn to each other because of sound, and how does this influence meaning? What tone do these sounds create (quiet, loud, sensual, aggressive, etc.)?

Also, think about whether the poem “moves” slowly or quickly, jerkily or fluidly.

  • Does the poem move differently at different places in the poem? What effect does this have?
  • How do the poem’s sounds contribute to its meaning? Does a particular sort of sound dominate the poem?

Rhythm. A poem’s rhythm can be regular or irregular. When it has regular rhythmical sound patterns, we say the poem has a certain meter. The type of meter is based on the number of syllables per line and how many unstressed (x) or stressed (/) syllables there are. (“I WAN-dered LONE-ly AS a CLOUD“; x /  x /  x /  x / ). A small, distinct group of accented words is called a foot (“a CLOUD”; x /). The various meters—tetrameter, pentameter, etc.—are based on the number of feet per line. (The meter in the above example has four regular feet, and is therefore tetrameter; because each foot has an unstressed syllable [x] followed by a stressed one [/], this is called an iamb. We would then say that the line is in iambic tetrameter; if it had an extra foot—that is, five feet—we would call it iambic pentameter.)

  • When you count out (scan) the syllables of a line, do they follow a rhythm? Is there a name for it?

Melody. Melody refers to sound effects, such as rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and consonance, with each producing a unique melodic effect. Rhyme is a type of melody, and rhymes can be perfect with identical vowel sounds (“guy” and “high”) or slant, when the sound of the final consonants is identical, but not the vowels (“shell” and “pill,” “cement” and “ant”).

  • Do words at the end of lines rhyme? Why kind of rhymes are they? Do they form a pattern (a rhyme scheme) that is regular or irregular?
  • Do the rhyming words have any relationship with each other? Does the rhyme concentrate meaning in any way?

[Key terms: concrete poetry, rhyme, rhyme scheme, rhythm, meter, stress, alliteration, consonance, assonance, scansion, prosody, concrete poetry, foot / feet, iambic, iambic pentameter, melody, perfect rhyme, slant rhyme, couplet, blank verse.]