Ballad of the Landlord

by Langston Hughes

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What is the rhyme scheme and meter of "Ballad of the Landlord"? How do they shape the poem's tone and theme?

Quick answer:

The rhyme scheme of "Ballad of the Landlord" is mainly that the second and fourth lines of the quatrains rhyme. The meter is much more volatile. The semi-predictable, semi-surprising rhyme scheme and meter reflect the tumultuous theme of race and economics.

Expert Answers

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In Langston Hughes’s poem “Ballad of the Landlord,” the main rhyme scheme for the quatrains is the second and last lines rhyme. In the first stanza, “leak” rhymes with “week.” In the second stanza, “down” rhymes with “down” (it has to; it's the same word). In the third stanza, the second and last lines rhyme, yet these lines also rhyme with the first and third lines. Here, Hughes switches to a monorhyme, since each line ends with the same rhyme.

With the two tercets (the three-line stanzas), the second line of the first tercet rhymes with the second line of the second tercet, and the third line of the first tercet rhymes with the third line of the second tercet.

The last four lines could be read as a quatrain. The final four lines link to the rhyme scheme of the prior quatrains, with the second line, “BAIL,” rhyming with the final line, “JAIL.”

As for meter, that's hard to pinpoint. Sometimes, Hughes seems to be using trochee. In the first line of the poem, the stress in landlord is on land. At other moments, Hughes appears to pivot to iamb. For example, the stress is on the second syllable in "Police! Police!"

Even if the rhyme scheme and meter aren't consistent and stable, they still create a melodious tone. There is a pattern, although the pattern is volatile. Perhaps the tumultuous meter and rhyme scheme relate to the stormy, economic relationship between the landlord and the Black tenant. As with the rhyme scheme and meter, the landlord and the man’s narrative, and the racism that it indicates, produce a semi-predictable, semi-unpredictable sequence.

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