Writing Poetry Backward

Writing poetry in which the rhyme schemes match the flow of thoughts
Posted by Douglas, Nov 26, 2009

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Writing Poetry Backward

Posted by Douglas, Nov 26, 2009
This post was written in 29 minutes.

Let me begin by saying "Happy Thanksgiving" to everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful day today.

This blog entry is just a little tidbit of information for those who enjoy writing poetry. Or, alternately, for those who don't enjoy it, but want to get better at it.

For "traditional" poets (those who wrote those very complex and difficult forms like villanelles (example: Springtime Villanelle) and sonnets (example: Nick (The Boy with Half a Brain)) there was a simple Rule of Rhymes which was followed fairly strictly: A change of rhyming sounds represents a change in subject/idea.

An example of this rule can be found in the poem I posted yesterday:

Cruel Silence

Notice that my poem is split up into 4 main sections, with one thought per section. The first section is the first four lines (called a quatrain). Then there is the second quatrain, the third quatrain, and finally, the concluding couplet (two lines). Each section has its own set of rhymes. For example, the first quatrain rhymes endure/impure and bar/character - an ABAB rhyme scheme. Then the rhymes change up for the second quatrain, and so on.

Forcing yourself to follow this Rule of Rhymes will help improve your writing. The reader - whether consciously or subconsciously - expects you to follow this rule, even if the reader doesn't know the rule. The human brain wants things tied up in nice neat bundles, and the auditory connection between the rhymes helps cement the lines together into one cohesive whole.

Break the Rule of Rhymes, and your reader feels as though your poem is a bit off-kilter, as though you are trying to build your meaning around your rhymes, instead of the other way around.

So how do you make yourself follow the Rule of Rhymes? You decide what you want to say in a rhyming couplet/quatrain before you start writing it! You say to yourself, "This quatrain is going to be about X." And then force your rhymes to fit that meaning.

I tend to write my poems backwards; I know where I want to end my quatrain/couplet first, and then I write the rest of it.

For example, in this quatrain, can you guess which line I wrote first?

A single word from You would cease the lies,
Would put your enemies to scorn and shame,
Would open wide the judge's blinded eyes,
Restore again the stature of Your name.


Yes, that's right; the first line I wrote was Restore again the stature of Your name.

The same is true here:

Yet You, my dying God, did mutely stand,
And let the truth remain untold, unknown;
Forsaken Lamb, was this the shame You planned,
To be maligned for love, and love alone?


I knew when I started that I wanted to end that quatrain with "love and love alone" and wrote the rest of the quatrain accordingly.

And finally, in the couplet...

And would I share in fellowship with Thee,
May I, as well, by silence purchase peace.


I knew what the concluding line of my entire poem was going to be before I even wrote the first line!

And you'll notice that the concluding couplet doesn't even rhyme; it's called a "slant rhyme" or a "partial rhyme" I chose to do that because I couldn't find a perfect rhyme that didn't change the meaning of what I wanted to say. Maybe someday I'll come up with a better way to say that, but for now, I'm content.

So this should be your motto every time:
Your poem's meaning comes before its rhyme.


Posted by Douglas, Nov 26, 2009

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