Let's Look at the Three R's in Literature: Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition

By Brian, Janeen | Practically Primary, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Let's Look at the Three R's in Literature: Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition


Brian, Janeen, Practically Primary


Thanks to modern technology, manufactured sound is more readily available these days than ever before. Devices of all sorts bring it promptly to the listener. It's difficult to imagine a time when oral communication involved only the storyteller and the listener with no intervening machinery--and when the interaction involved only the participants' sensory organs: the voice and the ear.

Yet that need for humans to be active listeners and to be enthralled with words is still within us. Anyone who begins to tell a story will always have an immediate audience. And I believe that the essence of communication, where the ear is nourished as much as the eye, comes from literature that is rich in one, two or all three of the following techniques of writing--rhyme, rhythm and repetition.

We know the vital need for young children to hear and interact with nursery rhymes, finger games, and later, playground or skipping chants. Hearing patterns and rhythms, and gaining enjoyment and satisfaction from prediction is what the 3 R's in literature is all about.

Here's an excerpt of one of my latest picture books, Columbia Sneezes! Columbia, the camel, is allergic to sand! He is bemoaning the fact.

   I like all the palms and the watery well.
   I like all the moonlight and fresh nightly smells.
   I like all the dunes that rise up and then fall
   but I don't like,
   I don't like,
   I don't like at all
   all the sand that is carried by each desert breeze--it
   tickles my nostrils and fills me with SNEEZE!
   Atishoo, atishoo, atishoo!
   And then, atishoo, I sneeze and atishoo again!

As well as setting the character's predicament firmly in place, the 3R's bring a musicality to the language of this piece.

Rhyme

Rhymes are sound echoes that help create the music of poetry. You'll find rhyme not only in literature, songs and chants but also in advertising! We all tend to remember short, catchy rhymes, much to the advertiser's delight. But in the world of literature, especially for the young, it's hard to beat the joy and endurance of well-known nursery rhymes. They're fun and lay a foundation for future language enjoyment.

Good rhyme rolls off the tongue. Contrary to what many people think, a simple, substantial rhyme is often hard to create and its smoothness is proof of effort involved. A forced or uneven rhyme, one that makes the reader halt or emphasise wrongly, is unsatisfying. It shatters the unity and balance of a piece of work.

Another pitfall in rhymed verse is one in which the rhyme has taken precedence over meaning. It's like trying to jam a wrong piece into the jigsaw just to make it fit. It's a situation that's common with new or inexperienced writers.

For example:

   Magpie struts upon the lawn.
   He is black-and-white, not fawn.

Here the comment about the magpie's colouring is contrived and brings no sense to the couplet. The word 'fawn' is clearly used because it rhymes with 'lawn'. In this instance, it's easy to see rhyme hasn't supported meaning.

Mostly rhyming patterns occur at the end of lines, but not always. And there are many variations. Namitjira by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) follows the a, a, b, b example. This style is often referred to as rhyming couplets.

   Aboriginal man, you walked with pride,  (a)
   And painted with joy the countryside.   (a)
   Original man, your fame grew fast,      (b)
   Men pointed you out as you went past.   (b)

Drought, however, by Will H. Ogilvie uses the popular a, b, a, b pattern.

   My road is fenced with the bleached, white bones  (a)
   And strewn with the blind, white sand.            (b)
   Beside me a suffering, dumb world moans           (a)
   On the breast of a lonely land.                   (b)

In contrast, this pattern is a, b, c, b

   The villagers talked of voices heard,          (a)
   Raised loud in the blood-chill night. 

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Let's Look at the Three R's in Literature: Rhyme, Rhythm and Repetition
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