In our previous MTB sessions, we talked about repetition and sounds in the art of poetry. In support of our Villanelle poetry form, I am going to feature the use of rhyme specially end rhyme and slant rhyme as our poetic devices. I will not be discussing all the types of rhyme in this post as this was previously discussed here and here.
What is Rhyme?
The repetition of syllables, typically at the end of a verse line. Rhymed words conventionally share all sounds following the word’s last stressed syllable. Thus “tenacity” and “mendacity” rhyme, but not “jaundice” and “John does,” or “tomboy” and “calm bay.” A rhyme scheme is usually the pattern of end rhymes in a stanza, with each rhyme encoded by a letter of the alphabet, from a onward (ABBA BCCB, for example). Rhymes are classified by the degree of similarity between sounds within words, and by their placement within the lines or stanzas.
A perfect rhyme is a case in which two words rhyme in such a way that their final stressed vowel, and all subsequent sounds, are identical. For instance, sight and light, right and might, and rose and dose.
The most common type is the end rhyme, where the rhyming is found at the final syllables of a line. Here is an example, from Seamus Heaney’s “Digging” :
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground
There is another category of rhyme, which goes by a variety of names. Near-rhyme, slant-rhyme, half-rhyme and para-rhyme, imperfect, partial, near, oblique, etc.
They are generally used to give an inharmonious feeling in a rhyme scheme. They helps help a poet create an unusual range of words to give a variety of rhyming effects, particularly when they are used with other poetic devices and rhyming schemes. They help poets avoid using the typical sing-song chiming effects of full rhymes, and give them creative freedom.
The Traditional Narrow Definition of Slant Rhyme
Originally, slant rhyme referred only to:
Words that ended with the same consonants.
This definition would only include words like “hat” and “cut” or like “eden” and “dawn.”
The Broader Definition of Slant Rhyme
Over time the definition of slant rhyme has broadened. The newer, broader definition doesn’t focus solely on the last consonant of the word; it instead focuses on the entire last syllable of the word. It also allows for either similar consonant sounds (consonance) or similar vowel sounds (assonance) in that last syllable. The broader definition can be described in the following way:
- Slant rhyme involving assonance: Words that share assonance in their final syllables are slant rhymes, regardless of their consonant sounds. All of the following pairs of words are slant rhymes because their final syllable (or only syllable) share the same vowel sounds:
- “Hat” and “bad”
- “Crate” and “braid”
- “Created” and rabid”
- Slant rhyme involving consonance: Words that have consonance in the final consonants of their last syllables are slant rhymes, regardless of their vowel sounds. Note that if a word has consonants at both the beginning and end of a syllable, it’s only the consonance of the consonants at the end of the syllable that make the word a slant rhyme.
- “Cut” and “mat” are slant rhymes because they have consonance in the last consonants of their final (and only) syllable.
- “Poncho” and “crunchy” are slant rhymes because they have consonance in their final syllable (“cho” and “chy”). The fact that their ending vowel sounds (“o” and “y”) are different doesn’t matter.
- However, the words “unfit” and “unfair” are not slant rhymes, despite the fact that they both have an “f” in their final syllable. That’s because the “f” is not the final consonant to appear within that last syllable.
Slant Rhyme vs. Consonance and Assonance
While the broad definition of slant rhymes depends on assonance or consonance, it’s important to note that slant rhyme is not the same as assonance or consonance. The reason for that different is simple:
- Slant rhyming is the use of consonance or assonance at the ends of words.
- But assonance or consonance can exist anywhere in a word.
Slant Rhyme in Dickinson’s “Not any higher stands the Grave”
Emily Dickinson is well-known for her prolific use of slant rhyme. Here, the slant rhyme in the second stanza is preceded by the first stanza’s perfect rhyme: “men” and “ten.” This conditions the reader to anticipate a similar rhyme scheme in the second stanza, but instead Dickinson produces a slant rhyme: “queen” and “afternoon.”
Not any higher stands the Grave
For Heroes than for Men —
Not any nearer for the Child
Than numb Three Score and Ten —
This latest Leisure equal lulls
The Beggar and his Queen
Propitiate this Democrat
A Summer’s Afternoon —
Slant Rhyme in Larkin’s “Toads”
Save for the almost perfect rhyme of “work” and “pitchfork,” all of the other lines in Philip Larkin’s poem “Toads” are parts of slant rhymes made up of words that share either a final unstressed syllable, or share the final consonant sounds of a stressed syllable without sharing vowel sounds. The following excerpt shows the first four stanzas of the poem.
Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
and drive the brute off?
Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison-
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.
Lots of folk live on their wits:
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don’t end as paupers;
Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
They seem to like it.
Why Use Slant Rhyme?
Much like the perfect rhymes that are more common in poetry, slant rhymes give a sense of unity and cohesion to poetry by repeating sounds according to a pattern or rhyme scheme. Unlike perfect rhymes, however, slant rhymes may not always be obvious to the ear, so some poets use slant rhymes to give their poetry a more subtle musical quality. Still other poets may choose to use slant rhyme because it gives them a wider range of word choices than traditional rhyming does—enabling them to express themselves more freely (and therefore more precisely) than they might be able to if they needed to use words that rhymed perfectly. Slant rhymes can also have a way of surprising readers by omitting traditional rhymes where they might be expected to occur, satisfying the reader’s ear in a way that they may not have expected.