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Understanding Poetry: Rhyme Scheme

Attention class: write a poem using the ababaxCabbC rhyme scheme.

*Class looks around*...what the deuce?

Oh, it's possible. And a rhyme scheme is nothing but a map to show you the way on how to write a poem in fixed form.

The rhyme scheme is a specific pattern (either created by the writer or a fixed form) that is established by arranging rhymes in a stanza or throughout a poem, and is described by using letters to show the recurrence and specific pattern for the lines of the poem.

Now, that might seem confusing at first, but think of the rhyme scheme as a sort of "code" if you will for your poem. Each rhyme scheme deals specifically with end rhyme and both capital and lowercase letters all give you the directions needed to create the poem.

1. Capital letters create a refrain. This is a repeating line throughout the poem.

2. Lowercase letters (except x and y) just show the rhyming pattern.

3. The letters x and y remain unrhymed.

4. In all cases, the rhyme scheme will show you exactly how many lines there are in the stanza or poem. Just simply count the letters in the rhyme scheme.

5. If the rhyme scheme is longer than one stanza, it will have a break in the middle (a space). Respect each stanza separately for its rhyme scheme. Example: abab ccdd is a Rispetto. This poem is two stanzas long, each having 4 lines to each stanza (quatrain) for a total of 8 lines. The poem will have a noticeably white space between each stanza.

Lets take, for instance, a fixed form known as the Rhyme Royal stanza form. This has the rhyme scheme of ababbcc. Now, lets break down what the poem would look like:

This poem has 7 lines in total. It is just one stanza long. This poem has three end rhyme sounds (this is up to the writer to create). There is no refrain.

(a) he is the calm before the storm
(b) an awakening before thunder strikes
(a) exalting from the heavens in another form
(b) another bolt upon rain in a spike
(b) not realizing that angry gods are alike
(c) I dare to set him free
(c) emancipation to mere mortal, of thee.

So, the (a) end rhyme sound would be "storm...form..."

The (b) end rhyme sound would be "strike...spike...alike"

And finally, the (c) end rhyme sound would be "free...thee"

Starting to make sense? Hopefully so. As a matter of fact, a quatrain (that's four lines stanza to you writers) that uses the abab rhyme is called an cross rhyme. A quatrain with the abba rhyme scheme is called an "envelope rhyme" ---see how it gets its name?

You can create rhyme schemes on your own. This can make your poem have more rhythm, and a particular beat that may be needed with a particular subject matter. Perhaps you just want to follow some more popular rhyme schemes? Try a popular poetry site such as for poetry types or try the Poetry Foundation organization at to research. Read poetry, and observe rhyme schemes.

Keep on writing and learning, Poet.


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