Does something have to rhyme to be considered poetry?

I’m continuing a discussion that sprang up on this thread, where I posted a couple of poems I’d written and Jimpy made this observation:

I disagreed, and pointed to the blank verse of Shakespeare, cummings, Pound, and Eliot, among others, as being glowing representatives of poetry which doesn’t rhyme. I played up the importance of meter and imagery, and displayed a poem which rhymed, though not conventionally.

Jimpy responded by noting that Shakespeare did rhyme, “at least when he’s writing poems, not prose plays.” As for cummings and Eliot and Pound, they’ve written rhyming stuff too, and “just because someone is a poet doesn’t mean everything he writes is a poem.”

I’ll point to blank verse again, and say that just because a poet has written things that rhyme doesn’t mean that everything they write which doesn’t rhyme isn’t, perforce, a poem.

Oh, and I badly mangled Ernie’s “Rubber Ducky” song while making some kind of point. And I feel real bad about it.

So what’s the verdict? Do poems have to rhyme in order to be poetry?

Of course it doesn’t have to rhyme.

“The lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” is undeniably a poem, yet it has hardly a rhyme.

Lots and lots of other examples.

Cecil Adams was decent enough to rhyme his poetry:

I can rhyme if I like, as anybody who’s seen the abysmal rhymes I occasionally post can attest to. But the only real poem I’ve ever written did not rhyme, so no, I don’t think it’s necessary. (Unless you are seeking employment with Hallmark–thenyou gotta rhyme.)

Give me solid meter and real rhyming structure every time! That’s the poetry I like best. The other stuff, however, still is poetry, rhymes or not. I just don’t like it as well.

H.P. Lovecraft said “poetry is the language of the Gods.”

I guess 'ol Howard knew that Gods really don’t need to rhyme whatever they say. Anyway, Ialmost never rhyme poetry.

I personally love Russia Verse and poems. When they are translated to english the do not rhyme. Does this mean they are no longer poems? I do not think so.

My 2 cents



I’m not a poetry expert, but what little I know of poetry indicates that various cultures had their own styles, and rhyming was not always important.

Parts of the Bible are poetry, and I don’t think that rhyming was necessarily a part of Hebrew poetry.

“Beowulf” is a poem, and its structure followed whatever rules the Anglos normally used.

Dante’s “Divine Comedy” used a rhyme scheme of aba, bcb, cdc. . . .

And I think we’re all familiar with the format of haiku.

Now, if instead you’re talking about “modern poetry,” or whatever it’s called, where you just string together a bunch of obscure lines of incomprehensible gobbledy-gook, I’d hardly call that poetry.

But I’m in a minority on that.

I personally HATE rhyming poems…well, ametuer rhyming poems. For some reasons certain writers get it in their head that they need to rhyme no matter what, even if it’s “June” and “moon.”
According to a poem is

And a verse is a

I don’t see ANY requirement for rhyming in those definitions.
Rhyming is good if you can do it, and it sounds good. . Personally, I think Emily Dickenson, who rarely has rhyming poems, is just as much of a poet as Robert Frost.

According to **Asimov’s Guide to the Bible **many of the poems of the Bible are actually songs. Psalms, in particular, seems in many places to be songs. In some places there are notes to the accompniansts. And many do rhyme, in Hebrew. I don’t have the book in front of me right now, but I read this section a couple of days ago and if I get motivated enough to go to my bedroom (where the book is) and then come out agaon (the hard part) I’ll scrounge up some specific examples.

I generally prefer rhyming poetry (provided the poet didn’t force the rhymes, with the inevitable horrific results), but I don’t consider rhyme essential. Structural elements are important in poetry, but I consider them secondary. I consider density the essential criterion for determining whether or not something is poetry–in this context, I mean “density” to refer to strength of images or emotional effects per unit volume in words. The purpose of the common structural elements of poetry is to support the production of intense imagery or emotion in relatively few words (as compared to prose). Haiku is an extreme example of this–the strict limitations on word usage force the poet to compress the desired image or emotion into the format.

We’re arguing our own personnal definitions of poetry and I doubt we’ll convince each other, but…

Balance said…

There’s nothing in the textbook definition (or at least my source for much of my ramblings here-Encyclopedia Brittanica 2000 DVD edition)that says poetry must have imagery or messages. In fact, there is a branch of poetry called “pure poetry” that is deliberately message free and deals solely with the structure and language of the poem. Although much modern poetry doesn’t rhyme, I don’t consider it poetry and a couple of hundred years ago, neither would almost anyone else. They are, in my opinion, structured prose.

As I said on the In My Humble Opinion thread that started this–Obviously I subscribe to a narrow definition of “poem.” And the best you’ll get me to admit is that there is a form of prose call the “prose poem” as defined (by the Merriman Webster dictionary) as “a composition in prose that has some of the qualities of a poem”

I HATE amateuer non-rhyming poems. At least by my peers (teenagers), they invariably come off sounding pretentious. I can barely even think about how much I despise these pieces of drivel without getting my blood boiling. Of course there are exceptions, but I usually prefer rhyming poems, so long as the rhymes aren’t forced, because then, even if the message isn’t so good, and the symbols aren’t deep and thought-provoking, there was some skill behind the rhyming and the meter and so on. But the skill shines through mainly when it all flows naturally and sounds normal, without forcing poor rhymes. But, around 6th grade, when kids realise “Hey, most of these poems they make us read now don’t rhyme…so why should ours?!”, they take the easy way and write some fancy prose and put random breaks in the lines and stanzas. Why? Because it’s easier than coming up with clever rhymes, and making them flow.
Well, at least this is the case with high-schoolers.

Mjollnir wrote:

There once was a man
from Peru, whose poems all
looked like Haiku. He

said with a laugh, “I
cut them in half. The pay is
much better for two.”

– author unknown

I recall a professor i had who said (actually quoted I think, since i don’t recall him saying anything else interesting) that the difference between prose and poetry had to do with prose proceeding along in a linear fashion whereas in poetry there were connections made between every word. Ok, I am explaining this even worse than my teacher did to begin with. I know what I mean, but…
Well, rhyme and meter are two ways of creating this non-linear relationship. But not the only way. Without them poetry is actually much harder to do well, though it seems easier. Which would account for the understandable hositlity in the thread for non-rhyming “poetry”.

Verse rhymes. But not all verse is poetry.

Not all poetry rhymes but if you’re not T.S. Eliot and you want someone else to read it you could at least make the effort.

tracer, that verse is so good it’s almost poetry.

Wm. Shakespear never wrote prose plays.

They were all in verse - Iambic Pentameter isn’t a prose rhythm.

I think the only evidence you need to show that poetry needn’t necessarily rhyme is the fact that some great poetry were written in other languages. They may (or may not) have rhymed in their native tongue, but when translated to English, they probably don’t.

If anyone’s been through my website, you’d know that I certainly don’t believe something needs to be rhymed in order to be poetry. However, it should have an overall structure and pattern (although that’s not a definite given).

If poetry must rhyme, then tell me: what did Robert Frost create when he did “Mending Wall”? That is, to me, the second-best poem ever written originally in English.

The main reason poetry doesn’t have to rhyme is that for centuries, millenia, cultures have read and appreciated translated poems from other languages. Obviously they are poems, but don’t rhyme any more (some probably never did).

If you study poetry and like it unrhymed when you read it, of course you will be writing that way as well.

For centuries, poets and bards in cultures all over the world created compositions that were acknowledged by their hearers (and later readers) as poetry or songs, and which did not rhyme. While rhyme as an aural effect undoubtedly appeals to us at a fairly deep level (hence the delight in it taken by children), it has never, in any tradition I’m aware of, been considered the sine qua non of poetic technique. Meter, in whatever mode was typical of the culture, has been. Rhymes are rare in Anglo-Saxon poetry, somewhat less so but not common in the Hebrew poetry of the Bible, and infrequent in many other traditions. Yet each of them has a definable metrical quality that is almost immediately evident to the hearer.

Rhyming in the western poetic tradition arose primarily in the highly inflected Romance languages, where it was possible to rhyme nearly anything because of the prevalence of certain vowel and consonant sounds in the noun and verb endings that denoted number, person, case, tense, and mood. Given the influence of the Romance languages on English, it was inevitable that rhyme would enter our poetic tradition, but there have always been English poems that did not rhyme.

Walt Whitman and later William Carlos Williams et al. developed metrical forms that were so subtle as to be nearly (or in some cases wholly) invisible, eschewing rhyme for the most part as well, thereby triggering a century’s worth of writing that was indeed all too prosaic, particularly when combined with the Romantic emphasis on personal expression. Just because a bunch of self-indulgent crap that didn’t scan or rhyme got foisted off as poetry by its creators, however, doesn’t change the essential metrical character of poetry.