Rhythm – The Flow of Sound in Poetry

Poetic sound devices are literary forms that imbue a written work with rhythm. Derived from the Greek term “rhythmos” for calculated flow, rhythm serves as the heartbeat of the arrangement of words.

When writing with attention to sound, there are four general principles to consider:

  • Rhyming: Achieved through the repetition of sound-alike or spell-alike words.
  • Repetition: Creates a musical pattern within a stanza.
  • Euphony: Makes the sound flow harmoniously and pleasantly.
  • Cacophony: Makes the sound flow harshly and discordantly.

Now, let’s tune into the following excerpts of poems that adhere to the four general principles of poetic rhythm. Afterward, consider composing a few lines in response to the poem.

Rhyming

The Burial of the Dead
T.S. Eliot

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding.

Repetition

O Captain! My Captain!
Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Euphony

Success
Emily Dickinson

Success is counted sweetest,
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar,
Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple host,
Who took the flag today,
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory.

Cacophony

Jabberwocky
Lewis Carroll

“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”