Rhyme scheme

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Rhyme scheme is the term used to mean 'the overall repeated pattern which groups lines of verse' by reference to the rhymes at the ends of those lines. This is of great use in describing both well-used verse forms like the sonnet, clarifying the answer to such questions as "What is a sonnet?" and "What is the difference between a Petrarchan and a Shakespearean sonnet?"; and also in describing the verse form repeated in each stanza of a longer poem in traditional metre. The rhyme scheme is usually linked, in traditional verse, to the scansion of the metre.

The way to describe a rhyme scheme is very simple. Look at the (right-hand) end of each line in turn and identify the sound(s) with which it ends. Label the rhyme sound at the end of the first line 'a'. If the rhyme at the end of the second line is the same, label it also 'a'; if it is different, then label it 'b'. Continue in this way through the passage whose rhyme scheme you are trying to describe.

The simplest of all rhyme schemes is that of the rhyming couplet, for example, (Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, Epistle II, 1-2):

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of Mankind is Man.

Here the rhyme scheme is 'a' 'a', showing that the word at the end of the first line, 'scan', rhymes with 'Man' at the end of the second. The rhyme scheme is not much more complex in a simple quatrain, like the ballad stanza such as this, from The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere, by S.T.Coleridge:

At length did cross an Albatross,
Thorough the Fog it came;
And an it were a Christian Soul,
We hail'd it in God's name

where the first line ('a') has no rhyme, but the second ('b') rhymes with the fourth. The third line, like the first, has no partner, so is labelled 'c'. So the whole rhyme scheme is given as a, b, c, b.

More complex rhyme schemes are dealt with at Spenserian stanza, terza rima, and other articles in the category:verse forms.