Rhythm in Poems

by sheilamarie

Rhythm is an essential element in good poems. Rhythm in poems reflects the rhythm that appears in all elements of our lives. Rhythm makes poems dance!

Let's face it: without rhythm, a poem has no life.

You can do without rhyme, you can do without flowery language, but rhythm? Never!

Come with me and explore the life blood of poems.

Life's Rhythms Are Translated in Poems

See the Rhythm in Life

Rhythm is something we experience even while still in the womb. Our Mom's breathing, her heartbeat, and the blood whooshing through her body were the rhythmic background of our world even before birth.

Later we experienced not only our own bodily rhythms but also the rhythms of the day, the rhythm of the seasons, and the rhythms that constitute our life spans. It's no wonder rhythm in words and in music moves us so!

Do You Write Poems?

What Kinds of Rhythms Do You Enjoy?
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No, I haven't written any poems lately.
kimbesa on 07/09/2011

Not for a long time...but perhaps soon!

I write poems.
LizMac67 on 08/15/2014

I enjoy all poetry.

MaxReily on 07/27/2011

Yes, I do. I like to use different rhythms for different poems, just as long as there IS a rhythm, There needs to be, but that's something a lot of would-be poets don't understand.

tandemonimom on 07/09/2011

I write metered and free verse. Should say "wrote" - it's hard to find the peace needed for poetry with kids in the house!

ohcaroline on 07/09/2011

I don't know much about the rhythms in poetry...but I have written a few. The rhythm in my poems always comes out the same. I find it interesting.

Rhythm in Poems Is the Pulse That Moves Us

Words Have Their Own Rhythm

Unless we are reading aloud ourselves, when we hear a poem, we are hearing it through someone else's breath. That person's voice emphasizes certain words, certain parts of words. One syllable is emphasized, another is not.

In the writing of poetry, the poet decides where the emphasis will go. There is a natural up and down feel in the English language. Traditionally, English language poets have created works using patterns of an unaccented syllable followed by an accented syllable in what has been referred to as an iambic foot. When five of these feet occur on a line, we have the classic iambic pentameter, a pattern used by such greats as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Robert Frost. Each of these poets used the form to create poems with the particular diction and syntax of his own times. 

When the weak-strong pattern of iambic feet needed some shaking up, poets used trochees, which meant switching to a strong-weak pattern. Lengths of lines were played with as well.

But what makes poetry art is the way patterns can hold surprises rather than just chugging along in a predictable way. By the end of the 19th century, poetry was becoming too predictable and lacking in oomph and life. Innovative poets, such as Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Elliot, broke the rules of form and wrote in free verse, which breathed new life into the art form. Free verse was taken up by many young poets in different ways throughout the twentieth century.

Breaking forms and dispensing with regular patterns of feet and rhyme schemes doesn't mean giving up on rhythm, however. Although patterns of feet and end rhymes gave rhythm to the poems of earlier generations, free verse poets still depend heavily on the rhythm of words.

And the older forms are not dead -- far from it! Lots of poets still use older forms, at least for some of their work.

Robert Frost Poems

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What Is Your Favorite Kind of Poem to Write?

More on Rhythm in Poems

Sound Poem

Of course this article is a gross simplification of rhythm in poems! To do justice to the history of how poets have used rhythm in poems would take a lot longer article. But here are a few points to take with you:

  • Rhythm is an inherent element of our lives
  • Rhythm is inherent in our language
  • Poets have a sensitive ear to how the rhythm of words works
  • How poets use rhythm in poems is what gives the poem life and resonance

If you are a poet, you already know that rhythm is the lifeblood, or pulse, of poetry. Rhythm, however, is not the only important element in a poem. I am preparing several more Wizzley articles to discuss additional elements in poetry. I hope you'll explore more about poetry with me. 

Some Anthologies of Twentieth Century American Poetry

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Does Rhyme Make a Poem?

What About Poems That Don't Rhyme?

How Do We Know a Poem Is a Poem Even if it doesn't rhyme?

Some people ask themselves that question, but the question misses a point. Rhyme is only one of the many tools a poet uses to express something deeper than a surface treatment. Because sound matters, rhyme has over the centuries been a strong way to let a word or idea echo from one line to the next. However rhyme in itself isn't what gives the poem power, but the idea beneath the rhyme. When poets rely only on rhyme, the words don't become a poem. It is the revelation that the rhyme allows to come to the surface that makes the poem memorable.

Free verse of the 20th century seldom rhymes or uses internal rather than end rhyme. These are no less poems than those with stricter rules and rhyme schemes. If you immerse yourself in contemporary poems, you will get a better idea of why I say that. Compare a poem from one of today's great poets to a Hallmark card and you see that the former gets to a deeper place of what it means to be human while the second relies on simple rhymes to express an everyday sentiment. A card may be nice, but it's just that -- nice -- and doesn't really help us to think or understand ourselves as human beings on a deeper level.

If someone holds to the position that rhyme is what distinguishes a poem, I'd be inclined to think that person is not someone who reads serious poetry. 

What do you think?

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Updated: 10/19/2017, sheilamarie
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LizMac67 on 08/15/2014

In the U.K. we were not taught how to write the set forms of poetry, but now I am enjoying writing sonnets and kyrielle and vilanelle to name a few.

MaxReily on 07/27/2011

I use different forms, sometimes iambic pentameter, sometimes free verse, sometimes quatrains--it just depends on what form the subject takes.

puerdycat on 07/19/2011

Love poetry. Enjoy playwright David Mamet, living example of successful use of iambic pentameter.

Jewelsofawe on 07/18/2011

I would say I like free verse best!

pkmcr on 07/09/2011

I envy those who have the gift of writing poetry and this is a really interesting page which will be very useful

sheilamarie on 07/09/2011

That's fantastic, Tandemonimom! Congratulations! I'll look for it.

tandemonimom on 07/09/2011

I just had an older poem accepted to Mothering magazine, to be published soon.

ohcaroline on 07/09/2011

Sometimes an event strikes me and wants to come out in a poem. I need to write more poetry.

mbgphoto on 07/09/2011

I enjoy reading poetry...thanks for an interesting lens.

Michey on 07/08/2011

I am not a poet, and just writing in second language is hard enough for me, but I like rhythm in music, and yes, I agree that the rhythm is part of our life in many ways, and forms.
I enjoy your post

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