Rhythm and Rhyme—Their Effects are Sublime

From Edgar Allen Poe's The Bells, Public Domain engraving.
From Edgar Allen Poe’s The Bells, Public Domain engraving.

By Margaret Welwood

I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
I do not like green eggs and ham!

What do “Little Boy Blue,” Dr. Seuss’ classic invitation to try some different food, and the newest stories in poetic form offer children that some other stories don’t?  Rhythm and rhyme—and their predictability is a major player in helping children learn the spoken and written language.

These two features also have a powerful effect on the feelings that a piece of writing evokes.

They sweep us along in Edward Lear’s ridiculous picture of an elderly gent.

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!’

In “Eletelephony,” Laura Richards employs rhyme to the extreme, to the delight of children and their grown-ups.

Once there was an elephant,

Who tried to use the telephant—

And we hear Tennyson’s broken heart thudding in his elegy on the death of a friend.

Break, break, break,

    On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!

Rhythm is not, of course, confined to poetry. Think for a moment which sounds stronger, Matilda and Jane, or Jane and Matilda. The first, by ending on a strong beat, carries more power. Perhaps when we read a sentence to see if it “sounds right,” we’re not only checking for grammar, we’re also subconsciously checking for emphasis and flow as conveyed by the rhythm.

You can learn to take advantage of rhythm and rhyme by reading the masters. I enjoy Tennyson, Dr. Seuss, and Margaret Wise Brown, among others. And an editor can help you strengthen your prose and poetry by making the rhythm and rhyme both more consistent and more powerful.