By Gianna Albaum

As a tutor for high school English students, I’m always surprised to find that classes rarely spend much time on poetry — some of the easiest points on the AP English Literature tests. Poetry involves another language, a set of vocabulary that is erudite and therefore daunting, but it is a language that you can learn. Once you are able to diagram a poem as quickly as you would diagram a sentence (verb — object — abverb — etc), you can quickly ascertain the significance of the words. Like prose, the ‘way’ a poem is written — that is, the style rather than the substance — can serve as a parallel and often more interesting level of analysis. I want to offer here a series of blog posts that treat common devices and terms used in poetry.

Photo courtesy of rick

When discussing meter and syllables, rhymes can be classified into one of three categories: masculine, feminine, and dactylic.

Masculine rhymes are the most simple and the most common: the stress is on the final syllable of the word.

Tree-leaves labour up and down,
And through them the fainting light
Succumbs to the crawl of night.
(“Nobody Comes,” Thomas Hardy) 

Feminine rhymes instead stress the penultimate — or the second to last — syllable, and the last two syllables rhyme.

A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women’s fashion.

(“Sonnet #20, William Shakespeare)

Dactylic rhymes, continuing in the same pattern, stress the third to last syllable, and the last three syllables rhyme. These are so rare, I had a hard time finding an example from a real poem, so instead I’ll offer an isolated rhyme — aristophanes, cacophonies.

More more posts on poetry from our editors, click here.