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In this lesson, we will delve into the wonderful world of poetry. Specifically, we will analyze poems with the ABAB rhyme scheme.

After a few examples, we will analyze how poets implement this type of rhyme scheme to create memorable poems. We will conclude our lesson with a brief quiz.

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ABAB Rhyme Scheme: Definition

One of the first choices a poet needs to make when writing a new poem involves the structure of the poem. Some poems are written in free verse or open form, which means that the poem does not have a particular structure. Other poems are written with non-rhyming structures that pay attention to the number of syllables. A haiku is an example of this type of form. Finally, other poems are written with a certain type of rhyming scheme.

Shakespearean Sonnets
Picture of Sonnet 18

Today we will examine the ABAB rhyme scheme. The ABAB rhyme scheme means that for every four lines, the first and third lines will rhyme with each other and the second and fourth lines will also rhyme with each other. There are many different types of rhymes that occur within lines, but for the purposes of this lesson, we will focus on the last word in each line only.The most important thing to take away from the concept of the ABAB rhyme scheme is the fact that every other line rhymes. This is in contrast to the AABB rhyme scheme, where lines rhyme in consecutive pairs.

Examples

To get a better understanding of this format, it’s best if we just dive into some examples. Let’s look at two famous authors who wrote using the ABAB rhyming scheme in their poems: Robert Frost and William Shakespeare. Both Frost and Shakespeare’s poems had a lasting impact on their audiences. Part of this impact was due to the way the rhymed lines create a rhythm that lingers in the minds of people who either read these poems or hear them out loud.

Now, let’s take a look at a few poems that employ the ABAB rhyme structure.

Robert Frost

We will begin with Robert Frost‘s famous poem, ‘Neither Out Far Nor In Deep.”The people along the sandAll turn and look one way.They turn their back on the land.They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to passA ship keeps raising its hull;The wetter ground like glassReflects a standing gull.The land may vary more;But wherever the truth may be—The water comes ashore,And the people look at the sea.They cannot look out far.

They cannot look in deep.But when was that ever a barTo any watch they keep?’There are four separate stanzas in the Robert Frost poem, but in each stanza the ABAB rhyme scheme applies. Take the first stanza, for example.

‘Sand’ rhymes with ‘land,’ and ‘way’ rhymes with ‘day.’ Sometimes in ABAB poems, the rhyme scheme will continue throughout the entire poem, but sometimes the exact rhyme will change between stanzas. If you wrote the rhyme scheme out for this poem, it would be ‘ABAB CDCD EFEF GHGH.’ In order for the poem to be written out ‘ABAB ABAB ABAB ABAB,’ the rhyme would have to stay consistent for all the ‘A’ lines and all the ‘B’ lines. All the odd lines would have to rhyme with ‘sand,’ and all the even lines would have to rhyme with ‘way.’

Shakespeare

Our second example will be one of William Shakespeare‘s most famous sonnets, ‘Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?’ It is important to know that poems with ABAB rhyme schemes can also be organized with other types of structures, such as in the form of a sonnet.

A sonnet is composed of three 4-line stanzas (in the ABAB rhyme scheme), followed by a couplet, which is in the AA rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme of the entire sonnet would look like this: ‘ABAB CDCD EFEF GG.’ For our purposes, however, let’s just focus on the alternating rhymes found in each of the first three stanzas.

First stanza‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate:Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:’This poem demonstrates another important part of poetry, too. Older poems sometimes do not seem to rhyme correctly because, depending on when they were written, the formal pronunciation of certain vowels or words might have changed. Back in Shakespeare’s day, we pronounced the word ‘temperate’ so it rhymed with ‘date,’ although most English speakers today probably would pronounce it differently.Second stanza‘Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;And every fair from fair sometime declines,By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;’This stanza follows an uncomplicated ABAB rhyme scheme.

Third stanza‘But thy eternal summer shall not fadeNor lose possession of that fair thou owest;Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,When in eternal lines to time thou growest:’Like the second stanza, this stanza also is perfect ABAB rhyme scheme. As you can see, even though sometimes the pronunciation of certain words have changed since Shakespeare’s day, most of his poem is still easily identifiable as an ABAB rhyme scheme.

Lesson Summary

Using a rhyme scheme is one option poets have when they want to organize their poems. Even if a poet uses a rhyme scheme, they can still organize their poems in another way, such as using a certain number of syllables per line or using a historical poetic form, such as a sonnet. ABAB rhyme schemes are just one type of rhyme scheme, but they are a popular one. When we discuss ABAB rhyme schemes, we mean that the very last word in the first and third lines rhyme, while the very last word in the second and fourth lines make a different rhyme.

Robert Frost and Shakespeare are just two examples of poets who utilized the ABAB rhyme scheme.

Learning Outcomes

Once you’ve completed this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the ABAB rhyme scheme
  • Identify examples of this rhyme scheme using Robert Frost and Shakespeare poems

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