August 13 Kenneth Burke: The Habit of Imperfect Rhyming

Today, I’m going to talk about slant rhymes. Exact rhymes are where the end sounds of words are exactly the same: talk and walk, whistle and thistle, boil and toil, rhyme and crime. But a slant rhyme (or near rhyme, or off rhyme, or imperfect rhyme) has two sounds that are close but not quite the same: sun with bone, rain, green, gone. It upsets readers’ expectations and accents an imperfection in the line. The book quotes a Blake line where the poet rhymes “moved” with “loved” (he also rhymes “eye” with “symmetry” in another poem, but I think that’s more likely because he had an accent).

I think that the amateur poet can get into trouble with a slant rhyme. He could become so enamored of a word that he decides, “well, it sort of rhymes, I’ll just call it a slant rhyme.” But a good poet should plan to use a slant rhyme before he becomes enamored of a word. I’ve seen slant poems usually used for comic poems (often times to parody bad poets), there’s nothing more surprising than a word that doesn’t quite rhyme and comedy is often about surprise. But slant rhymes can be used for many purposes, usually to upset a reader’s expectations (why a poet should want to do that is up to the poet).

Kenneth Burke, according to the textbook (Intro to Poetry, 7th Ed., Kennedy), was trying to create the most perfect possible imperfect rhyme when he wrote this poem. He believed that the best combination of slant rhymes came from window-shadow-meadow.

I quite like the results. He seems ee cummings inspired (although he probably didn’t have the market cornered on poetry word play). This is a playful poem and a lot of fun. But don’t mistake this for serious poetry matter, unless you really want to (I won’t stop you – it’s your funeral).

The Habit of Imperfect Rhyming

Lips now rhyme with slops
Hips with blobs
Passion with nuclear fission
And beauty with shoddy.
The word for lovely leisure, school,
Is now in line with urban sprawl,
Are we blunted or haunted?
Let window be bedded
With shadow and meadow.

All this is necessary
Says the secretary –
Else moand, groan, bone must go with alone,
As breath must go with death.


About penneloppe

I like to write horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction. Sometimes, I'll write science fiction, but usually I like to write science fact. I also write screenplays and stage plays. My day job is office work. I live in Seattle and I have a cat.
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