Rhyme Scheme

  • While rhyme scheme is usually associated with scansion, I prefer to keep it separate so as not to complicate matters.

    Identifying a poem's rhyme scheme is actually very easy.  Let's use Shakespeare's Sonnet #18.

    Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
    And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
    Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
    And oft' is his gold complexion dimm'd;
    And every fair from fair sometime declines,
    By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
    But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
    Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
    Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

    So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
    So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

    Rhyme schemes are all about end rhyme (the rhyme at--surprise, surprise--the end of the line).  We start with the first line.  Assign that line the letter A.

    Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?  ( A )

    Look at the next line.  Does the last word of that line rhyme with the last word of the first line?  If the answer is no, we assign the next letter in the alphabet.

    Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?  ( A )
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:  ( B )

    We repeat this process with each line, always referring back to the previous lines to see if they rhyme.  For example, the third line ends in "May," which rhymes with "day."  Since these lines rhyme, they get the same letter (A).  The fourth line ("date") rhymes with the second line, so they get the same letter (B).

    Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?  ( A )
    Thou art more lovely and more temperate:  ( B )
    Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,  ( A )
    And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:  ( B )

    And so on through the poem.  Each time you come to a line that does not rhyme with a previous line, issue it the next letter in the alphabet.  Should you make it to "Z", just carry on by doubling the letters (AA, BB, CC...).

    Why is rhyme scheme important?  The simple answer is that some types of poetry have very specific rhyme schemes (including Shakespearean sonnets, which have a different rhyme scheme from Italian/Petrarchan sonnets).

    And in case you were wondering, the sonnet above is A B A B C D C D E F E F G G.  :)