End Rhymes are the most basic type of rhymes in poetry and popular song. They are what we think of when we think of the word “rhyme,” almost without exception. If you have ever recited a poem aloud or sung along with your favorite song, you have encountered end rhymes. If you write songs or poetry, you no doubt have written many an end rhyme already, even if you did not think of it by that name.
For those looking for a general overview of how poetry works including rhyme, you can get a good start in the basics of the different basic traditional forms by reading this poetry blog by Kiri Rowan. That should get you acquainted with the various frequently-encountered forms. For those looking to go a bit more in-depth into modern poetry, try this online course.
What is an End Rhyme, Exactly?
End rhymes, simply put, are rhymes that occur in the last few syllables of adjacent or alternating lines of a poem or song. Look at the corniest possible example:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Sugar is sweet
And so are you.
In this evergreen verse that most of us wish would not survive another winter, the words “blue” and “you” form an end rhyme. They rhyme, and appear at the ends of lines two and four of this incredibly trite little “poem.”
Rhyme as Such
To truly understand what end rhymes are, we must begin with the nature of rhymes themselves. Rhymes are easy to hear, and easy to give examples of, but not quite as easy to define. You doubt us? Go ahead, try to come up with a solid, textbook-style definition. We’ll wait.
Now that you’ve spent maybe 45 seconds fumfering about words that “sound the same,” or that “you know, have the same sound,” let’s put you out of your misery, shall we? The dictionary defines “rhyme” as “identity in sound of some part, especially the end, of words or lines of verse.” While that is a starting place, it hardly does the job, either. In the interests of time, we will have to content ourselves with an expansion of that dictionary definition, thus: Rhymes involve one or more words or phrases that end with the same combination of vowel and consonant sounds, generally in a way that is pleasing and recognizable as such to the ear.
Bear in mind that both the vowel and consonant sounds must be the same for a “true” rhyme. Therefore, “mind” and “blind” are rhymes, since they share both the “long i” sound and the two-letter consonant combination “-nd.” However, “mind” and “wide” are not true rhymes, but rather “slant rhymes,” since they share the “long i” sound but not the same consonant combination. Similarly, “mind” and “band” are not rhymes, since while they share the same two-consonant combination (“-nd”), they have differing vowel sounds.
So, then, armed with this definition, we can feel secure that we understand what an end rhyme is, then, can’t we? End rhymes occur when the words or phrases at the ends of adjacent or nearby alternating lines of verse have the same combination of vowel and consonant sounds.
Moon, June, and Spoon, Romantically
So, let us take a look at some examples. Perhaps the period of poetry that comes most quickly to the minds of most English speaking people is the work of the Romantics, the poets of the so-called Romantic Period of literature, in roughly the first half of the Nineteenth Century. Poets and writers like Percy Shelley, John Keats, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are generally trotted out as the exemplars of this school of poetry. If you’d like to learn more about them, you can do so in this online course.
But, if like us, you’re here to learn about rhymes, you’ve come to the right place. In his classic poem “Kubla Khan,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge played so deftly with end rhyme that readers for the last 200-odd years have managed to forget that the poem is the result of an opium vision, unlike most of his contemporaries, who contented themselves with what sort of blue things they could compare their loved ones’ eyes to. Here are the first five lines:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
Now, in spite of the fact that it may be a stretch to try rhyming “Khan” in the first line with “ran” and “man” in lines three and four, this excerpt gives us prime examples of end rhymes. “Decree” at the end of line two is end-rhymed with “sea” at the end of line five. Lines three and four are end-rhymed with “ran” and “man.”
The sharp-eyed and quick-witted among you will have noticed one of the aforementioned “slant rhymes” connecting line one with lines three and four, but that is another essay.
Children love rhymes, especially end rhymes. They love to make them up, to say them, and to listen to them. Children’s literature is chock-full of end-rhymes, perhaps none more so than the books of Dr. Seuss, which feature dazzling poetic skills in several areas along with rhyme: meter, rhythm, mid-line pauses (known as “caesurae”), and more.
Even the simplest child’s nursery rhyme functions as, essentially, the textbook on how to write end rhymes, as in this example:
Could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so betwixt them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.
Lines one and two of “Jack Sprat” are cleanly end-rhymed, as are lines three and five. Line four, of course, is simply an alternating line, and thus need not rhyme with anything, much like the third line of “Roses are Red.” After all, “sweet” rhymes with nothing else in that poem, does it?
learn more about writing for children, and especially about writing children’s books.
Sing a Simple Song (That Rhymes!)
And songwriters, too, understand the power of end rhymes, even if they also like to use internal rhymes as well (rhymes that occur between a word in the middle of a line and at the end of the same line). Hip-hop lyricists, in particular, are fond of those. But as for end-rhymes, unless you are Paul Simon (whose song “America” is perhaps the only famous song to feature NO rhymes, aside from certain national anthems), end-rhymes are the songwriter’s stock-in-trade. Take a class to learn more about how song lyrics are written and songwriting in general, or you might want to read this blog by Tiffany Tay.
The classic folk song, “The Big Rock Candy Mountain” gives a good idea of the way that songwriters use end rhyme, thusly:
One evening as the sun went down and the jungle fires were burning,
Down the track came a hobo a-hiking and he said, “Boys, I’m not turning;
I’m heading for a land that’s far away beside that crystal fountain.
I’ll see you all
This coming fall,
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
In this example, lines one and two are clearly end-rhymed (“burning” and “turning”), as are lines three and six (“fountain” and “mountain”). It is not uncommon in poetry or song lyrics for rhymed sounds to be three lines apart from each other, as they are here, after the end-rhymed lines four and five (“all” and “fall”).
When all is said and done, rhyme is the basis of all memorable strings of words. We remember songs and poems because they rhyme, and to a lesser extent because of their meter. There is nothing better than a good, unexpected rhyme, and nothing worse than a bad one. So as long as you’re willing to go beyond “moon,” “June,” and “spoon,” you’ll do just fine if you’re writing rhymes.