How to Identify and Understand Masculine Rhyme in Poetry

Masculine Rhyme Can Be a Useful Tool for Emphasizing Words in a Poem

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Masculine rhyme can create added emphasis on the rhymed words in a poem. 221A / Getty Images

A "Masculine Rhyme" happens when a rhyme is 1. on the final syllable of a word, and 2. that syllable is stressed. Green and Mean are masculine rhymes, as are Invest and Undressed, Import and Short, and Intrude and Food.

In looking at masculine rhymes, we have two separate components: the rhyme, and the stress. Rhymes are simply identical (or very similar) sounds. An okay rhyme is head and pet, since both share the same vowel sound, but head and bed are a closer rhyme, because they share a vowel and a consonant sound.

Rhymes don't have to be from the same letters, either. As we see above, invest and undressed rhyme, even though one ends in -st and one in -ssed. It's not about the letters themselves; it's all about the sound they make.

Stress is a little trickier to understand. In English, we don't put the same amount of emphasis on every syllable in a word. A syllable is "stressed" when we put emphasis on it--beCAUSE, CHATtering, RUSHes, perSIMMon. Those syllables that are not stressed are, not surprisingly, known as unstressed. A good way to figure out which syllables are stressed and unstressed in a word is to play around with emphasizing difference syllables. Does IMpossible sound the same as imPOSSible or imposs-I-ble or impossiBLE? Some words have more than one stressed syllable, although one is usually more stressed than the others--REconSIDer (where the third syllable is more stressed than the first).

Words that are only one syllable are usually automatically stressed, although it depends on their context within a sentence.

So, to have a masculine rhyme, we need two (or more) words that end with the same sounds, and both have stressed last syllables. Sink and Wink and Think are all masculine rhymes.

As are Overdue and Debut, and Combine and Sign.

As you can see, masculine rhyme has nothing to do with gender. The term was coined long enough ago that stressed syllables, more "powerful" than unstressed syllables, were equated with "the masculine;" words ending with unstressed syllables (like RUSHing, HEAVen, and PURple) are all considered "feminine" endings--when those kinds of words rhyme, it's known as "feminine rhyme."

How to Identify Masculine Rhyme:

For the most part, once you know the rules of masculine rhymes, they're pretty easy to spot. As long as the words in question rhyme in their final (or only) syllable, and that syllable is stressed, the rhyme is masculine. Check out the poetry excerpts below for examples of masculine rhyme.

Examples of Masculine Rhyme:

From John Donne's "Holy Sonnet XIV"

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

So we have two rhymes here "you/new" and "mend/bend." Since all of these words are one syllable long, they are automatically stressed. Rhyme? Check. Stressed syllable? Check. These are masculine rhymes.

From "On the Dangers of Open Water" by Liz Wager

This beauty we don't understand will sweep
us out to sea. We look for it below
our bows, but if we try to understand
the workings of that beauty we perceive,
we're driven mad by all we cannot know.
We force ourselves to roam between the strands
till, like Narcissus, drown to find reprieve.

Here, we have a couple different rhymes: "below/know," "understand/strands," "perceive/reprieve." (While "understand" and "strands" are not perfect rhymes, they're pretty close.) In this example, there are multi-syllable words: they all end with a stressed syllable--"perCEIVE," "rePRIEVE," and "beLOW." Stressed final syllables? Yes. Rhymes? Yes. Another example of masculine rhyme.

Why do Poets Use Masculine Rhyme?

In addition to knowing what masculine rhyme is, and how to identify it, it's also helpful to understand why a poet might use it in a poem, or what masculine rhyme contributes to a poem.

There are several ways to emphasize particular words in a poem. Placement in a line, stress, and rhyme all make words stand out. In the above examples, all the masculine rhymes occur at the end of the line; just by having that white space to their right, these words are more prominent, more visible. Our eyes linger on those final words before we move onto the next line. Stress, too, emphasizes a word; words like to, the, an, a, and, if, or, at, etc., are usually all unstressed in poetic lines, while stressed words have more meaning, more life. And, when words are rhymed, they stand out. The more times we hear a certain sound repeated, the more we pay attention to that sound--just think about the poetry of Dr. Seuss!

So, having masculine rhymes (especially those at the end of lines) help a poet to really emphasize the important words of a poem. Whether a reader realizes it or not, stressed syllables and words tend to stick in our memories better, as do the repetition of sounds that we find in rhyme. So, the next time you read a poem that incorporates rhyme (such as a sonnet or a pantoum), check to see if it is making use of masculine rhyme, and how that use is impacting your reading experience.