The reason for rhyme: A defense of one of poetry’s greatest misunderstandings

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By Emily Pierce, Staff Writer

Time for a slightly controversial opinion: there is nothing wrong with poetry that rhymes.

Rhyming gets a bad reputation. And I get it. You do not want to feel like you are in a Dr. Seuss story on your quest for emotional fulfillment through poems. Shakespeare seems like fun from the outside, but if you wanted to hear words in rhythmic sing-song you would have just put on your copy of The Phantom of the Opera.

Trust me: I completely understand where you are coming from. I tend to avoid rhyme in my poetry, mostly because I hate being accused of pedantry. At this point, it is honestly kind of an ego thing. If so many people hate rhyme, though, why does it still pervade through even today’s poetry?

The answer is simply because it is one of storytelling’s only true constants.

Granted, the reason why we tend to associate heavy use of rhyme is because of its prevalence in material aimed towards children. But rhyming text is proven to be helpful in aiding memory retention in children. While the specific rhymes only really stay in the child’s short-term memory, word association sticks more permanently in long-term memory. We teach kids “nursery rhymes” for a reason, not “nursery bits of prose that sound kind of nice but are difficult to remember in the long run.” The former seriously sticks longer. It is science.

Let us look back at Shakespeare. While not all parts of his plays and sonnets are written in characteristic iambic pentameter, the “A-B-A-B, C-D-C-D, and so forth” rhyme scheme remains something frequently associated with his work. It is not just there to give the Bard room to flex his chops. Rhyming was a significant artistic choice that promoted accessibility to audiences in the Elizabethan age who would usually only be able to access entertainment from peers or from passion plays. The proletariat defined Shakespeare’s success, arguably contributing to the lasting power of his words–something that would never have happened without rhyme.

By discounting the value of rhyme, we also fail to acknowledge the artistic aspects of popular songwriting. Certainly, there are a few songs with no internal rhyme scheme. But the completeness of ideas within the small space of a musical piece is arguably the utmost priority in creating songs. Moreover, a good rhyme–and a good lyricist–can make significant waves. The core of hip-hop and rap music, some of the most popular genres around today, lies in the structure of each piece’s lyrical content; even slant rhyme, where the parallel between words may not be immediately concise, makes an enormous difference.

Although rhyme within poetry might not be your particular cup of tea, its value as a literary device within both art and entertainment as a whole is undeniable. Rhyme has been used to help the brain in development, break down classist social barriers, and provide entertainment and introspection through song and spoken word. When you next choose to write fair words, consider rhyme with which to be heard.

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