Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one and calls out, “Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!” she doesn’t get one.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves’
As you can imagine, with so many Daves.
— From “Too Many Daves” by Dr. Seuss
Everyone knows what rhyming means. For example, “McCave” and “Dave” rhyme, as do “one” and “run.” These are called perfect rhymes. Using these types of words, poets can create elaborate rhyming schemes that add a certain flow or feel to their poems. Specific structures have been created that many writers follow, such as the ABBA style or ABAB. If they want to create something more intricate, they could use ABCCB or ABCDDCBA. Before things get too complicated, let’s examine a very simple way of rhyming that can easily slip people’s attention: imperfect rhymes, also known as slant rhymes.
Slant rhymes were first used by Emily Dickinson, but most people recognize W.B. Yeats as the most influential, and some believe that he was the one who made it more popular. Slant rhymes are fairly simple and easy to understand. The rules of slant rhyming used to be very strict, but over the years slant rhymes have expanded to include a broader range of sounds. So what are slant rhymes? “Hat” and “bat” are very basic perfect rhymes. But if the words were “hat” and “bad”, those would be considered slant rhymes. Imperfect rhymes are simply two or more words that almost rhyme. The requirements of a slant rhyme can be separated into two broad categories: consonance and assonance. These poetic devices, in slant rhymes, commonly only apply to the last vowel or consonant in the words.
If two words contain consonance (the repetition of the same consonant sounds), then they are considered slant rhymes.
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said–”Two fast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert….Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown…
The first four lines from Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley use consonant slant rhymes. “Stone” and “frown” are not perfect rhymes, but because they both share an “n” sound at the end, they are considered slant rhymes.
While poems using assonance (the repetition of the same vowel sounds) in slant rhymes are much less common, they are still valid. Take this section from How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning for an example.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal of Grace.
The “s” and “ce” at the end of the respective words are similar, but “ways” ends with more of a “z” sound, while “Grace” sounds more like an “s.” The “a” in the middle of both words is what connects them.
Slant rhymes aren’t always so precise–sometimes poets like to stretch the rhythm a bit far, like Emily Dickinson’s Not Any Higher Stands the Grave.
Not any higher stands the Grave
For Heroes than for Men–
Not any nearer for the Child
Than numb Three Score and Ten–
This latest Leisure equal lulls
The Beggar and his Queen
Propitiate this Democrat
A Summer’s Afternoon—
Slant rhymes aren’t very common, but they leave a lot more room for creativity and artistic inspiration than perfect rhymes. They also provide something new and exciting to try for those struggling for inspiration. And to all those writers, Robert Frost has a piece of advice: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Masterclass. “What is Slant Rhyme? Understanding the Definitions of Slant Rhyme and Why Slant Rhymes are Useful in Writing, With Examples.” Masterclass. www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-slant-rhyme-understanding-the-definitions-of-slant-rhyme-and-why-slant-rhymes-are-useful-in-writing-with-examples#3-reasons-writers-use-slant-rhymes
Miller-Wilson, Kate. “Slant Rhyme Examples in Poetry.” YourDictionary. examples.yourdictionary.com/slant-rhyme-examples-in-poetry.html
“Slant Rhyme.” LitCharts. www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/slant-rhyme
“Assonance.” LitCharts. www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/assonance
“Too Many Daves.” Best Poems Encyclopedia. Updated July 1, 2015. www.best-poems.net/poem/too-many-daves-by-dr.-seuss.html
“The Road Not Taken.” Poetryfoundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken
“Not any higher stands the Grave.” American Poems. www.americanpoems.com/poets/emilydickinson/not-any-higher-stands-the-grave/