Internal rhymes are an incredibly powerful poetic technique. While they can offer huge benefits to a poem in terms of pacing, memorability and musicality, they can also lead to disjointed or clumsy lines when overused, or used without specific intent. Similar to too much repetition, the overreliance on internal rhymes can weaken a poem, dilute its intent and even lead to an instance where the structure and “technicality” of a poem actually devalues what it is trying to say.

What are Internal Rhymes?

Internal rhymes are rhymes that occur within a single line of poetry, rather than at the end of lines. They are rhymes that happen in the middle of lines, rather than being “end rhymes” which rhyme the final words of each line.

Internal rhyming creates a complex sound structure within free verse poems. It can be used to put emphasis on certain words, or to create interesting auditory effects.

How are Internal Rhymes Different from a Traditional Rhyming Scheme?

A traditional rhyming scheme relies on rhymes occurring between line endings. For example, an “ABAB” rhyme scheme would have the end word of line 1 rhyme with the end word of line 3, and the end word of line 2 rhyme with the end word of line 4.

Internal rhymes break free from this structure. The rhymes happen spontaneously within lines, rather than adhering to a repeating end-rhyme pattern. This allows more flexibility and freedom in free verse poetry.

How are Internal Rhymes & End Rhymes Used to Different Effects?

End rhymes tend to create a sense of closure between lines in formal poetry. Internal rhymes, on the other hand, create fluidity within a poetic line. They allow a line to gain momentum and skip along with auditory surprises.

End rhymes also draw attention to line endings in a very regulated way. Internal rhymes highlight the interconnectedness of words within lines. They can bring out relationships between words that might otherwise go unnoticed.

What Types of Rhymes are Used in Internal Rhymes?

The most common type of internal rhyme used is through perfect rhyme – where the vowel sound and final consonants of rhymed words are identical. For example: “sweet” and “feet”.

However, imperfect or slant rhymes are also used. This is where similar but not identical sounds are employed, often for a more subtle effect. An example would be “free” and “liberty”.

Additionally, some poets use consonance (shared consonant sounds like “p” and “b”) or assonance (shared vowel sounds like “ee”) to create internal rhyme relationships between words.

What are the Benefits of Using Internal Rhymes in Free Verse Poetry?

There are several advantages to employing internal rhyme schemes in free verse poems:

  • They can emphasise important words or themes by linking them sonically, even as the actual meanings differ. This draws attention to significant ideas.
  • They add a musicality and playfulness within lines, without needing a strict external rhyme scheme. This brings an additional aesthetic dimension, in addition to making the poem much easier to remember.
  • Imperfect internal rhymes like consonance and assonance can subtly unite words within lines like threads stitching together sounds. This creates cohesion.
  • Internal rhymes can delight both the poet and the reader as they uncover and create audio surprises within lines.

Essentially, internal rhymes allow creativity within free verse as poets engineer short spurts of rhyme and sound in an unstructured form, leading to a more musical and memorable piece of work.

It can be a good idea to think of internal rhymes largely as the bridge between otherwise unrhymed lines. In a lot of structured poems, the rhyming structure isn’t just there because the form demands it – the form developed these structures as a way of increasing the musicality and memorability of the words and imaginery. In the case of internal rhymes, we can look at them as fulfilling the same role, but without forcing the poet to adhere to a strict rhyming structure developed over hundreds of years.

What are the Disadvantages of Using Internal Rhymes in Free Verse?

There are, however, some potential downsides to the use (particularly the overuse) of internal rhymes within poetry of any kind, but particularly in an otherwise unstructured free verse poem.

  • Overusing internal rhymes can feel too sing-songy, excessively stylized, or just distracting from the central meaning.
  • Expecting internal rhymes can constrain word choice as poets struggle to force words to artificially rhyme within lines. This can contort language.
  • Imperfect internal rhymes like consonance can lose coherence quickly. Unlike perfect end rhymes capping lines, the sparser internal echoes can dissipate and lose connection.

So internal rhymes require careful moderation. Their power stems from strategic placement highlighting themes – rather than attempting to generically sprinkle rhymes throughout all lines.

Is it Possible to Overuse Internal Rhymes in a Poem?

Definitely. Packing too many rhyming words into lines can make poems sound clunky or childish. It’s best to use internal rhyme selectively and minimally for the most impact. Think of internal rhymes as strong spice – they should delicately enhance rather than overwhelm other flavours in the verbal stew.

So subtlety and scarcity give internal rhymes potency. Generally, the shorter the poem, the more restraint is needed in splashing rhyming words about. But ultimately there is no firm rule about “too many” rhymes – it’s a matter of effectively engineering the specific poem’s soundscape.

How Can I Use Internal Rhymes in Free Verse Poetry?

Internal Rhymes Within the Same Line

One simple starting point is to identify keywords you want to highlight, and then consciously weave additional rhyming words around them within lines. These don’t have to strictly rhyme, consonance or assonance can also be used. The effect lightly links words sonically even as their meanings diverge.

For example, in the ever-present “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg:
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection

The shared “ea” vowel in “ancient” and “heavenly” creates an internal echo, highlighting this phrase in the long line.

Internal Rhymes Across Different Lines

An advanced use of internal rhyme is to stagger rhyming words across lines. This creates an interconnected music that pulls the reader through the poem. The rhymes act like a thread stitching together the verse.

For example, in “Singapore” by Mary Oliver, internal rhyme is used across lines:

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.

In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.

Oliver masterfully takes the word “eyes” at the end of line 2 and links it through internal rhyme with “restroom” in the middle of line 3. The placement creates a smooth sound bridge carrying the reader into the next line. It also draws attention to the location shift happening in the poem – from the airport in general to the specific space of the women’s restroom. The internal rhyme scheme highlights this movement in the verse.

Internal Rhymes and Enjambment

Enjambment – where a line break occurs mid-phrase or sentence – can interplay powerfully with internal rhymes. The sonic surprise of the rhyme carries the reader across the line break and into the next line.

For example, in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “One Art”:

It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Bishop rhymes “master” midway through the second line with “disaster” at the end of the third line. This binds the lines together sonically even as the sentence continues over the line break through enjambment. It also links the themes of mastery and disaster which are central to the poem’s exploration of loss. The fluid use of sound through internal rhyme and the interruptive line break work together to intellectually and musically encapsulate the poem’s complex ideas.

J.W. Carey
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