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.
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.