How do you define the rhyme scheme of a poem?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rhyme scheme is fairly easy to define though the concept can seem elusive to those first introduced to poetry because it is a new construct of mental and visual conception. Granted, once you know the basic concept, there can be very intricate variations, but these are not usually involved at the introductory level.

"Rhyme" itself is defined as a correspondence of sound between words (as illustration of the potential intricacies of rhyme, one of the advanced variations to this is "eye rhyme" where words, or parts of words, look alike though they do not sound alike, such as with "bough" of a tree and "rough" to the touch). You are probably familiar with the rhymes between rose, toes, nose, or between love and dove, or between moon, June and tune.

"Scheme" is defined as a systematic arrangement. When talking about rhyme, it is the systematic arrangement of rhymes. For example, you might write a poem that uses the above rhymes in an alternating scheme, which means that every alternating, or every other, line of the poem would rhyme, for a rhyme scheme something like this:

I had a rose.
It felt like love.
It tickled my toes.
Soft as a dove,
Tickling my nose.
Born of June,
Under the moon.

This impromptu poem has a rhyme scheme that rhymes every other line, except for the last two lines that rhyme with each other. Two lines that rhyme with each other are called couplets. Each line has an end rhyme (a rhyming word at the end of the lines). Remembering that a "scheme" for rhymes, or "rhyme scheme," is the systematic arrangement of rhymes, you can say that this poem has a rhyme scheme of alternating rhymes ending with a couplet. In poetic notation, this rhyme scheme (systematic arrangement of rhymes) would be notated by assigning each rhyme element a separate alphabet letter beginning with {a}. Thus this rhyme scheme would be notated as:

  • a rose
    b love
    a toes
    b dove
    a nose
    c June
    c Moon

Each rhyme element has a related alphabet letter and reveals a rhyme scheme of ababa cc. This shows the rhyme scheme, and this is how to notate the rhyme scheme. So, again the rhyme scheme is the systematic arrangement of rhyming words (words that have corresponding sounds with each) in a poem, and there may be complicated variations, such as rhyming elements that are not at the end of lines but in the interior of various lines or in the interior of one line. Some of the many rhyme scheme variations include:

  • perfect rhyme
  • end rhyme
  • intermittent rhyme
  • crossed rhyme
  • initial rhyme
  • masculine rhyme
  • feminine rhyme
  • consonant rhyme
  • rich rhyme
  • slant rhyme