We all know what rhymes are, don’t we? Most would say that a rhyme is when two words sound the same, and they’d be almost right. Some would say that a rhyme is when two words have the same ending sounds, and they’d be nearly right. The poets and songwriters in your life will tell you that a rhyme is two or more words that end with the same combination of vowel and consonant sounds. And they’d be right, but you probably would tune them out about halfway through that explanation.
So what is a slant rhyme, you ask? Well, a slant rhyme is a rhyme that doesn’t quite work as a full on, “end rhyme.” Either the vowel sound is a bit different, or the consonant sound is a bit different, but something is just a bit, well, “off” about a slant rhyme. This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with a slant rhyme—in fact, the best writers use them, for a myriad of reasons—but it’s worth knowing what they are, exactly, and how they differ from other forms of rhyme. If you’re interested in poetry in general, you might want to do some further reading in this blog entry by Kiri Rowan. For those who are interested in the more modern take on poetry (which—hint, hint—doesn’t always rhyme), there are many online modern poetry courses that offer a good introduction.
Slant Rhymes Demystified
So, here we are. We know what a rhyme is, but a slant rhyme? Hard for the layman to put his or her finger on. Fear not, gentle reader, for here is a simple definition, with examples to follow. Slant rhymes (also known as “near rhymes,” “half rhymes,” and by several other epithets) are everywhere, especially in modern music. We take them for granted, and generally only when we look closely do we realize that “this doesn’t really rhyme, does it?” Slant rhymes occur when two words share a final consonant sound or a final vowel sound, but not both. So, while “park” and “dark” are conventionally end-rhymed, since they share the short “a” sound and the two-consonant combination, “-rk,” the words “park” and “cart” are slant rhymed. Those two words share the short “a” sound, and the “r” is present, but the change from “rk” to “rt” is too far away to be called an “end rhyme.” Instead, we call it a “slant rhyme.” Some examples of other slant rhymed pairs of words: “sing” and “song,” “there” and “here,” “soul” and “all,” “on” and “moon,” and so on.
Slant Rhymes in Action
Poets, for years, have leaned on slant rhymes. As we said earlier, this wasn’t because they couldn’t think of a better rhyme, but rather, using slant rhymes gives poets more choices for how to say what they want to say. For example, if you use the word “love” in a poem or song lyric, the only rhymes are “above,” “dove,” “glove, “of,” and “shove,” or variations thereof. You see what we did there? However, when you add in the possibility of slant rhymes for “love,” you can choose any word that ends with the consonant “v” sound or with the short “u” vowel sound (regardless of whether it is an “o” or a “u” making that sound). So, the words “move,” “cave,” “weave,” and “thrive” are all slant rhymes for “love,” as are the words “but,” “cusp,” “drug,” and “rust.” NOW do you see why poets like slant rhymes?
The Romantics and Slant Rhymes
The poets of the Romantic Period (ca. 1800-1850) were quite fond of slant rhyme, as are all poets. Since the poems of that period tend to be longer in form, with longer stanzas, poets had a greater need than ever before (or since) to find as many possible rhymes as possible. Here is an example of slant rhyme in action from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most famous poem, Ozymandias: I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command… You can learn more about the Romantic poets, but for now, let us look at how Shelley used slant rhyme: Lines one, three, and five are conventionally end-rhymed (“land,” “sand,” and “command”), but lines two and four are clearly slant rhymed, since “stone” has a different vowel sound than “frown,” even though the sound comes from the same vowel. No, Shelley didn’t intend you to pronounce “frown” so that it rhymes with “stone,” in case you were wondering. He wasn’t making a mistake here, he was using slant rhyme to give himself a greater choice of words.
Songs That Slant
And of course, many (if not most) songs have slant rhymes in them. It would be hard to find one that did not, to be honest. The classic folk song, “The Rock Island Line,” often thought of as a children’s song, gives us several examples in the chorus alone: Now the Rock Island Line, it’s a mighty good road. The Rock Island Line, it’s the road to ride. The Rock Island Line, it’s a mighty good road. Well, if you ride, You got to ride it Like you find it On that Rock Island Line. Lines one and three are slant-rhymed with lines two and four (“road” and “ride”), with the most pungent slant rhyme embedded in lines five and six, with “ride it” slant-rhymed with “find it.” Generations of children and adults have sung along to this, entranced by the lyric, never once complaining that “ride it” and “find it” don’t exactly rhyme. You can learn more about songwriting in this online course, and about writing for children here. It might also be worthwhile to take a look at Tiffany Tay’s blog post on the craft of songwriting, while you’re at it.
Why Slant Rhymes Are Important
By now, you’re thinking, “Yes,” but so what? I like poems and songs, but I don’t need to know this much about how they work, do I? Well, the short answer is, “Yes, you do.” The long answer is too long for this little article, but you’ll have to just trust us, and understand that knowing how and why the writers of the poems and songs you like ply their craft is a thing that will enrich you. Do us a favor, if you are still in doubt. Take any song you like. Any one. Now, listen to it all the way through, and see if you hear any slant rhymes. You will, because it’s almost impossible to write a song without using them. Try it out, and you’ll understand.