Jacob has his master's in English and has taught multiple levels of literature and composition, including junior high, college, and graduate students.
Have you ever read a poem or heard a song that used two words that don't quite rhyme? It can be difficult to switch from a perfect rhyme scheme to one that has words that barely sound similar. This type of rhyme scheme is known as a slant rhyme. Let's take a look at the rhymes in two different stanzas from Emily Dickinson's Not any Higher Stands the Grave:
'Not any higher stands the Grave
For Heroes than for men--
Not any nearer for the Child
Than numb Three Score and Ten--' (1-4)
Notice how 'men' and 'ten' rhyme perfectly? This, of course, is a perfect rhyme. Compare this to the next stanza, which uses the same rhyme scheme:
'This latest Leisure equal lulls
The Beggar and his Queen
Propitiate this Democrat
A Summer's Afternoon.' (5-8)
Along with her reclusive nature, many readers originally found the slant rhyme in the poetry of Emily Dickinson odd. It's quite obvious that 'queen' and 'afternoon' both end with similar sounds, but don't rhyme. This imperfect rhyme is a slant rhyme, sometimes called a half rhyme or near rhyme. A more technical distinction between a full rhyme and a slant rhyme is that a full rhyme has a repetition in both the final consonant and the preceding vowel or consonant, while a slant rhyme has a repetition in the final consonant, but not in the preceding vowel or consonant.
You won't find much slant rhyme in poetry that came before the mid-19th century, but it is very common in the poetry of the 20th century. Contemporary poets frequently use slant rhyme to give themselves a greater range and freedom in the words that they use, as well as to produce a desired feeling in the poem.
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Examples of Slant Rhyme
While it's fair to say that Emily Dickinson was famous for using slant rhymes, it was W. B. Yeats and Gerard Manley Hopkins who made them particularly popular. Here's an example from Yeats' Easter 1916:
'I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.' (1-4)
While 'day' and 'grey' clearly rhyme, 'faces' and 'houses' form a slant rhyme. Notice how Yeats employs slant rhyme as a way to not only use words that don't traditionally go together in a formal rhyme scheme, but also to create an effect. In the case of the stanza above, the fact that 'faces' and 'houses' don't fully rhyme creates a feeling of discordance, which is central to the theme of the poem. The use of slant rhyme in many poems by Yeats influenced a tremendous amount of 20th-century poets.
Much of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry also employs slant rhyme, such as It was a hard thing to undo this knot:
'It was a hard thing to undo this knot.
The rainbow shines, but only in the thought
Of him that looks. Yet not in that alone,
For who makes rainbows by invention?' (1-4)
Again, contrast the normal rhyme of 'knot' and 'thought' with 'alone' and 'intervention'. Once you learn to recognize slant rhymes, you'll be able to see how they can have a large and fascinating impact on the meaning and feeling of a poem.
Slant rhymes, sometimes called half rhymes or near rhymes, consist of two words that come close but don't quite rhyme. The technical distinction between slant and standard rhymes is that two words in standard rhymes have matching final consonants and matching proceeding vowels or consonants, while slant rhymes have matching final, consonants but do not have matching preceding vowels or consonants.
When you are finished, you should be able to:
- Explain the difference between a full rhyme and a slant rhyme
- Name some poets who are known for using slant rhyme in their work
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Slant Rhyme in Poetry: Definition & Examples
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