Elements of poetry: Rhythm


Back to main Elements of poetry page

Rhythm can be created through:

  • Syllables
  • The tone, accents or emphases in sentences or words
  • Breaks or caesuras
  • Line spacing on the page

A poet can choose one word or another, a longer or shorter word, or emphasize one word rather than another. It all adds to the meaning. Musicians who rhyme have to match their lyrics to the rhythm of the music, if the music comes first (or vice versa), but certain music forms like Hip-hop have set rhythms and beats that the artist has to stick to.

Formally, poets can use the following techniques:

  • Metrical rhythm (or metre) is the precise arrangements of stressed or unstressed, or long and short syllables. Metre is different for every language in the world. This discussion is primarily for English, and Germanic languages where few syllables or sounds are silent or dropped. Refer to this page for a full explanation.
  • Parallelism is a structure in which successive lines reflected each other in grammatical structure, sound structure, notional content, or all three. Parallelism lends itself to antiphonal or call-and-response performance, which could also be reinforced by intonation.
  • Melody is another way of giving rhythm to a verse, and refers to sound or aural effects, such as rhyme,  which includes alliteration, assonance, and consonance. Each technique produces a different melodic effect. Refer to this page for an explanation of rhyme forms. In lyrics, melody is part of the rhythm of the song, both through the rhyme scheme and the actual composition of the melody.
  • Free rhythm is where there is no systematic metrical structure in a poem.