Life in the Box: Rhymin’
There’s a poem from the 1800s called “Over in the Meadow” by Olive A. Wadsworth. Over the past century, it has been published and republished with different illustrations and musical renditions.
I discovered it because our local library’s walking path had it displayed outdoors with movement suggestions for kids. I, of course, read it out loud with great gusto to my disinterested kindergarten-aged dog.
I love this poem for its great rhythm. I love that it pictures lots of animals in a nice meadow. But, I got tripped up on this: the author decided to rhyme “seven” with “even.” Drives me nuts!
Yeah, the “en” part technically rhymes, but when I say it out loud, I want to pronounce one of the words wrong—either “See-ven” or “Eh-ven.”
And I think if I were reading it to a child, I would apologize for the bad rhyme. I would ask the child to think of other words to rhyme with seven, probably “heaven” first of all. If that’s objectionable, then eleven, Kevin, Evan, something! Even brethren would be better to my ear! Okay, so none of those words make any sense with the seven crickets chirping, but maybe the author could find some better-rhyming word that fits.
My irritation led me to find out that this kind of off-rhyme is completely accepted by poets—it even has a name, “slant rhyme.” Or “half rhyme” or “near rhyme.” Apparently, we can thank 1800s poet Emily Dickinson for popularizing non-exact rhymes. More recently, rap artists do the same thing, which, according to Wikipedia, frees them up from tedious rhyming clichés.
I was shocked when I read the wiki-note about a poem from my childhood, “This Little Piggy.” This poem pairs “this little piggy stayed home” with “this little piggy had none.” I guess it didn’t stunt my inner poet too much, since I didn’t even identify it as not rhyming all the hundreds of times I heard it while having my toes counted. (Thanks, Mom!)
If there are kids out there that want to learn “exact” rhymes, games are now available online for them. PBS kids’ shows have a dozen to choose from, and I’ve included a link, below. And I had a brilliant idea for a rhyming game, myself. Have kids chart a road trip, possibly learning to use a map at the same time, and make up silly rhymes to go with town names. I tried it myself with state names, and have written a really pathetic little poem that goes from coast to coast. Believe me when I say, ”’Slant rhyme’ is awesome!” Don’t leave home without it!
Nancy Heather Brown is an Emmy Award-winning television producer whose career has included interviewing, writing, and editing for a span of four decades. Today, she enjoys learning new things and reflecting upon the creative process both inside and outside the box.
“Over in the Meadow” entire poem
Wikipedia’s take on “slant rhyme” or “half rhyme”
Article about Emily Dickinson with reference to “slant rhyme”
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