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Jan's Master Class--SLANT RHYME

Posted: Sun Feb 08, 2009 8:29 pm
by glorybee
A slant rhyme is a pair of words that almost (but not quite) rhyme. Unlike a perfect rhyme (girl/curl—turkey/jerky—creation/relation), a slant rhyme may have 1) a slightly different vowel sound (feature/nature), or 2) more common in modern American poetry, a slightly different ending sound (junk/defunct—year/piers).

The American poet Emily Dickinson used the first type of slant rhyme in many of her poems. Here’s a short example:

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,--

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.

Notice the paired words death/earth and away/eternity? They don’t quite rhyme, but in the hands of a gifted poet, they absolutely work.

The other day when I was driving to work, I heard the song “Hold Fast” by Mercy Me on the radio, and I noticed slant rhyme of the second type in the opening lyrics:

To everyone who's hurting
To those who've had enough
To all the undeserving
That should cover all of us
Please do not let go
I promise there is hope

Notice the “a” rhymes: hurting/deserving. A perfect rhyme for hurting would be something like blurting, flirting, skirting, squirting, converting…but none of those fit with the meaning the lyricist wanted in line 3. He didn’t make the mistake that many beginning poets make—the idea that every rhyme in end-rhymed poetry must be a perfect rhyme. Instead, he opted for undeserving—and the result is a beautifully unforced lyric that says exactly what he wants it to say. The search for the perfect rhyme should never drive your poetry; the meaning of the poem should be foremost.

The ear hears close rhymes like this as true rhymes, anyway—especially I think, in music, but also in any traditional, rhymed form. When the vowels match, and the consonants are close, it’s slant rhyme, and it’s good enough. It’s far better, in fact, than a forced or unnatural rhyme:

To everyone who's hurting
To those who've had enough
To girls who’ve been caught flirting…

In the same Mercy Me lyric, the “b” rhymes and the “c” rhymes are also slant rhymes: enough/us share the “schwa” vowel sound (look it up!) and go/hope share a long “o” sound. In both of those instances, the ear hears the rhyme.

I’ve mentioned this before (maybe in the “rhyme” class) but one particularly common way of forcing a rhyme in order to make it perfect, when a slant rhyme would be just fine, is by using a form of the helping verb “do”. Like this:

Avoiding my savior, I’d dithered all day
So down on my knees at my bed I did pray.

That’s just horrible poetry on so many levels (I can say that, because I wrote it…). The first line’s not entirely horrid. But that second line! It’s got an odd, inverted grammar, almost painfully contrived, just so that I can get to the exact rhyme of pray at the end of the line.

But…what if that last word could be prayed? Hmmmmm…..

Homework: Fix the bad couplet! I know I haven’t given you much to work with, but use the first line of my couplet, and end with a slant rhyme—either prayed or some other word that almost, but not quite, rhymes with day. If you wish, you can use that first line as part of a longer poem—a quatrain, maybe.

OR link to a poem of yours in which you used slant rhyme.

OR discuss slant rhyme—do you try to use perfect rhymes always? If so, how do you avoid forcing your rhymes? Can you think of other reasons (beside the forcing issue) why a poet might use a slant rhyme?

Next week’s class may be a day or so late; I’ll be in Florida celebrating my daughter’s birthday, and not flying back until Monday. If I get a chance to write it during the week, I’ll take it along on my travel drive and post it from there.

Next week: Slice of life

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 2:36 am
by GShuler
I don't use as much slant rhyming as perhaps I should. It's so easy rhyming and I write poetry at a grade school level (intentionally, to avoid the need to learn new words :roll: :roll: ) so I don't have many examples of my own. I did find slant rhyme in the 4th and 5th verses of Things Found Along the Road ... p?id=91935

Here is my assignment:

Avoiding my savior, I had dithered through the day,
tucking him securely in my holy attaché.
I felt that I could call him anytime, anywhere
so I ignored his whispers, I never said a prayer.

The things I never saw with my weakened carnal eyes
were the dangers pressed around me, I never realized.
Christ was gracious anyway, his hand remained in mine
although I did not know it because I was still blind.

But then there came a challenge far more obvious to me,
I recognized the danger, though still seen carnally.
I turned the key, set him free and made my crisis known:
"Lord, oh Lord, please help me... please don't leave me all alone."

Then I heard his whisper, oh so softly in my ear
reminding where he'd been when I felt no need to fear.
He had always been beside me, never locked away.
His deep love was faithful, he'd not dithered through the day.

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 10:24 am
by glorybee
Gerald, the poem you link to is beautiful--but I didn't find any slant rhyme. All of yours were exact rhymes--even though some of the words had different spellings, they still had identical ending souds.

That's not a bad thing, not at all. There's nothing wrong with exact rhymes, as long as they're not awkward or forced. And yours were just fine.

As for the poem you wrote for "homework"--as usual, well done! The rhyme you chose for 'day' was an exact rhyme ('attache'), but there are other slant rhymes in later quatrains: your second stanza has two of them...eyes/realized and mine/blind.

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 10:26 am
by Pat
Slant Rymes! My very, very, favorite! Whoohoo! I'll have to dig for some. I think they are mostly Free Verse though, and some proses. (sp? :mrgreen: )

Whoop! :wink:

PS. ...'dithered'...? eeewwwww :mrgreen:

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 3:42 pm
by jodiebanner
Here's my attempt at your line.

Avoiding my savior, I’d dithered all day
I couldn't be bothered to kneel and pray.
But thankfully Jesus has mercy to share
And when I submitted, He met me in prayer.

I'm embarassed to admit I had a hard time finding a slant rhyme in any of my poems, I either used exact rhyme or didn't rhyme at all, except one stanza in one challenge entry. Stanza 5 ... p?id=20411

It wasn't one of my best , I've been meaning to fix it, it didn't seem to convey what I was trying to write. Maybe, if I hadn't worked so hard on the exact rhyme scheme, I wouldn;t have lost my original meaning in the whole thing and people might have "got it". Hmmm, maybe I might find the energy to rework it?

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 3:56 pm
by glorybee
Hmmmmm, I should have been clearer. It's not that slant rhyme is preferable to exact rhyme--no one needs to be embarrassed if they don't have slant rhyme in any of their poems.

Rather, it's that slant rhyme is 1) perfectly legitimate, and 2) better by far than forced or artificial rhyme.

Jodie, you wrote a lovely quatrain using my opening line--but there's no slant rhyme there. However, the line you used was way better than the contrived and awkward one I provided as an example.

Your linked poem does have slant rhyme--happily/eternally. And it doesn't jar the reader at all--you said what you needed to say!

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 6:03 pm
by Pat
I dithered my time,
away from my savior.
Ashamed felt I,
on my knees did cry,
my heart now rests in His favor.

I know - not exactly slant but I liked it. :wink:

Working ...

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 1:27 am
by Symphonic
This is what came to mind when I read the first line of your couplet. I realize it’s a little archaic.

Avoiding my Savior, I’d dithered all day
Over trivial things, neither merry nor grave...

I was thinking of a passage in C. S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, in which one of the doomed says upon arrival in Hell, "I now see that I spent most of my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked." (It’s how I sometimes feel after I’ve wasted an hour doing something inane, like surfing the internet or playing Freecell...)

A few weeks ago, someone provided a link to a sestina she’d written. That reminded me that I’d written one in graduate school, so I dug it out of the files. I’m not sure if you would call these “slant rhymes,” but I remember that the professor encouraged us to find inexact alternatives for the keywords. I’m sure there’s a technical term for that!

Here’s the link to the sestina: ... p?id=94301

All the students drew numbers to determine who would choose the keywords. There was an anthropology major in the class, and guess who got to choose the first word?

Carol S.

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 1:53 am
by hwnj
I'm sure that you will look askance
When told I simply don't use slants,
But far prefer perfection sweet--
It's one neurosis I won't treat.
So how do I my rhymes not force...?
A good thesaurus use, of course!
But if upon it Cat's asleep,
I'll use the slant, submit, and weep.

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 9:12 am
by glorybee
Pat--I like it, too!

You mentioned that you enjoy slant rhyme--care to share more about why?

Hey--just a few more days!

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 9:16 am
by glorybee
Carol, every time I read one of your insightful replies to my class, I wish you'd been the one to write it. You've got so much of value to teach us!

Love what you did with the couplet!

And as for that anthropology major--she should be thwapped with a noodle! I'd be very interested in why your professor wanted you to find inexact alternatives/slant rhymes for your sestina. Is that the "standard" of poetry now?

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 9:17 am
by glorybee
Holly, you crack me up! You get the gold star this week, for your persistent individualism, and also for mentioning a kitty.

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 10:01 am
by Pat
Jan, I will get back later this evening to give some reasons why I like slant. Right now I have to *gasp* go to work. :P

Whoop! A few more days id rught! :superhappy

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 12:03 pm
by hwnj
Avoiding my savior, I’d dithered all day,
And yes, I confess that I stalled and delayed,
Because of the way that I cruelly behaved,
Though criticized justly, the critic disdained.

(Now if the cat would just get off my thesaurus!)

Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009 12:08 pm
by glorybee
Woo hoo, Holly, and a second gold star for doing something so absolutely counter-intuitive to everything you believe it! (and you did a great job of it, too!)