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What is a rhyme?

A thing often assumed to be known in vain, rhyme is the perfect coincidence of all the sounds from the [last] stress of two words to the end of them. In Romance languages the statement has exactly the same meaning with or without the term 'last'; although, due to the existence in English of secondary stresses, it does make a difference here: e.g. 'circulate' carries a secondary stress on the 'a', whereas the primary one lies on the 'i', so that it could or could not be considered to rhyme with 'fate', according to whichever definition we are pleased to pick. Classic English poetry has systematically embraced the easier way, and assumes they rhyme, as in this example from Shakespeare (from Sonnet XXXVIII):
Be thou the tenth muse, ten times more in worth
Than those old nine which rhymers invocate
And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth
Eternal numbers to outlive long date

Of course, by referring to a poem as 'rhyming', prosody, as well as the layman, means that the last words of two (or more) verses are connected by rhyme; the occurrence of rhymes in the middle of verses will be covered, maybe, in the chapter devoted to advanced poetic devices.

Rich rhyme

Rich rhyme is a backward extension of ordinary rhyme. In less abstruse terms, this means the two sequences of sounds in the words start being identical before the last stressed vowel. Of course a rich rhyme is also an ordinary rime, and equally of course the vice-versa is not necessarily true. Rich rhyming isn't popular at all in English; it is, and very much so, in decadent French poetry, where it is very much the rule rather than the exception, as is shown in this deliciously incomprehensible sonnet, 'El desdichado' (the wretched) by Nerval:

Je suis le ténébreux, - le veuf, - l'inconsolé,
Le prince d'Aquitaine à la tour abolie:
Ma seule étoile est morte, - et mon luth constellé
Porte le soleil noir de la Mélancolie.

Dans la nuit du tombeau, toi qui m'as consolé,
Rends-moi le Pausilippe et la mer d'Italie,
La fleur qui plaisait tant à mon coeur désolé
Et la treille où le pampre à la rose s'allie.

Suis-je Amour ou Phébus?... Lusignan ou Biron?
Mon front est rouge encor du baiser de la reine;
J'ai rêvé dans la grotte où nage la sirène...

Et j'ai deux fois vainqueur traversé l'Achéron:
Modulant tour à tour sur la lyre d'Orphée
Les soupirs de la sainte et les cris de la fée.

Mirror rhyme

An even more perverse form of rich rhyme, mirror rhyme is an extremely rare device, in which a word phonetically includes the other one entirely: for example there is mirror rhyme between 'cart' and 'art', 'clerk' and 'lark', 'flower' and 'our'. To the knowledge of the present writer, there are no major examples of mirror riming in classic English poetry, although the very beginning of Keats' Endymion seems to contain more mirror couplets than statistics would allow; it was used extensively in a piece by Raimon de Miravalh, 'Aissi·m te amors franc' (this way love keeps me fair), and other Provençal troubadours employed it from time to time, and never by mischance, as may be seen in this fragment of Bernart de Ventadorn's most famous song, 'Quan vei la lauzeta mover' (when I see the meadowlark move):

Per la dousour que al cor li vai
Quan gran enveja men ve
The result is a remarkable echo effect; but by far the most systematic use of this device is found in Jean Renard's 'Lai de l'ombre' (lai of the mirror image), a poem in octasyllabic couplets written around 1220; here is its very beginning; keep in mind that two words that sound exactly the same (see next paragraph) qualify for mirror rhyme as well:

Ne me vueil pas desaüser
de bien dire, ançois vueil user
mon sens a el qu'a estre oiseus.
Je ne vueil pas resambler ceus
qui sont garçon por tout destruire,
quar, puis que j'ai le sens d'estruire
aucun bien en dit ou en fet,
vilains est qui ses gas en fet,
se ma cortoisie s'aoevre
a fere aucune plesant oevre
ou il n'ait ramposne ne lait.

Identity rhyme
Identity rhyme is simply the phonetic identity of two words. They can have the same spelling as well, but it is not required: for example, 'bat' as an animal and 'bat' as a club is an acceptable couple, as is 'all' and 'awl' or 'talk' and 'torque' and so forth; in poetry, this sort of rhyme is often obtained by combination of two words, as in 'thinking' and 'th'inking', and Petrarca fairly often irks his readers with the 'l'aura' (th'air) 'Laura' (his mistress) match.
This device is often called 'rime riche' by Anglo-Saxon prosodists who, however, make quite a mess of its definition.
Of course, identity rhyme can be the most banal of devices, when the words concluding the two rhyming lines have the same sound, spelling and meaning; otherwise, it is an extremely refined, rare and difficult technique. Couples of words with the exact same sound but different meanings are called 'ambiguous rhymes'.
As identity rhyme conveys an idea of stillness bordering on obsession, its main use is in sextains, and examples of it are to be sought there; occasionally, though, examples of it are found in simple couplets: in Racine's Phèdre, Aricia, in love with Hyppolitus, who is in turn coveted by his own stepmother, blurts out:
Tu vois depuis quel temps il évite nos pas,
Et cherche tous les lieux où nous ne sommes pas.
(vv. 621-622)

Likewise the chorus in Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral often refers to the immobility of destiny by this couplet:
That the wheel may turn and still
be forever still

Entire poems written in identity rhymes exist in archaic Italian poetry; the most notorious (and perhaps most successful) example is Guittone d'Arezzo's 'Tuttor, s'eo veglio o dormo', an amazing work composed of 36 ambiguous couplets, which are far more diffcult to contrive in Italian than they are in French or English. The poem starts:
Tuttor, s'eo veglio o dormo, [I sleep]
di lei pensar non campo, [I live]
ch' Amor en cor m'atacca. [attacks]
E tal voler ho d'òr mo, [gold, now]
com' di sappar in campo [field]
o di creder a tacca. [with a tag]
E bon sapemi, como [how]
eo n'acquistasse Como; [Como, a city]
ma' che diritto n'ò, [I have]
perch'eo non dico no [no]
di lei servir mai dì, [any day]
dica chi vol: 'Maidì!' [so help me god!]
(the square brackets contain the translation of the rhyming endings).

A (shorter) English example of the same type is Distressful Homonyms by Vikram Seth.

Virtual rhyme

This is a false rhyme that exists only in English and is strictly connected to the nature of iambic verse: since an ideal reader would stress all even syllables, lines are assumed to rime when their last even syllables (in a pentameter, the tenth ones), and whatever comes after, are matched. This excerpt from Shakespeare's sonnet CV falls in such case, at least for a contemporary reader:

Let not my love be call'd idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.

It goes without saying that Continental readers regard this device as tasteless and idiotic, perhaps because they are not used to it. Perhaps.

Assonance and consonance

We have stated in the beginning that rhyme is a relationship that connects two words through the perfect coincidence of each sound from the last stressed vowel on. When instead of all sounds only the consonants are the same, the relationship is called consonance, while if only the vowels are the same, it is called assonance; the terms are commonly used to denote identity of all consonantal (or vocalic, respectively) sounds in two words, wherever the accent is.
These devices are often used by inferior scribblers to substitute for rhymes; you shall not have examples of that, though, for two excellent reasons, the first being that they are little agreeable, the second that all those the Present Author can think of are still under copyright.
More decent poets use them, instead, for several purposes, such as linking different groups of rhymes, or in specifically devised forms. Assonance, for example, is the base of several Spanish forms, and is the ground on which Spanish symbolists have tailored their free verse; in most poems of this type the same assonance is used every other line, throughout the whole work (the effect is emphasised more by the fact feminine words are used for this). An example from Antonio Machado:

Me dijo un'alba de la primavera:
Yo florecí en tu corazón sombrío
ha muchos años, caminante viejo
que no cortes las flores del camino.

Tu corazón de sombra ¿acaso guarda
el viejo aroma de mis viejos lirios?
¿Perfuman aún mis rosas de la albe frente
del hada de tu sueno adamantino?

Respondí a la mañana:
Sólo tienen cristal los sueños mios.
Yo no conozco el hada de mis sueños;
ni sé si está mi corazon florido.

Pero si aguardas la mañana pura
que ha da romper el vaso cristalino,
quizás el hada te dará tus rosas,
mi corazón tus lirios.

Consonance is more common in English, where vowels are such a mess, but it is not usually employed in such a systematic way. S.T. Coleridge who, the present guide not being, unfortunately, available to him, had misunderstood almost everything about alliterative verse, often uses it to conjoin the hemistichs of the unrhymed lines in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner':

The sun now rose upon the right:
out of the sea came he,
still hid in mist, and on the left
went down into the sea

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