by Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Taylor and Gillian Clarke
You can use rhyme in many ways. Rhyme is great for remembering things, for insults, name calling, ring games, talking to babies, spells, jokes, hymns, incantation. Silly rhymes make us laugh. Simple rhymes make a sad poem more moving. A good example of that is W.H. Auden’s ‘Stop All the Clocks’.
There are half rhymes, single rhymes, double, even treble rhymes. There’s end-of-line rhyme, and internal rhyme. A lovely example of treble rhyme is ‘yesterday’ and ‘here to stay’ from a Beatles song. Shakespeare uses rhyming couplets to end a scene, or a play:
‘For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.’
The following two poems show quite different examples of the way rhyme is used in poetry: ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost, and ‘Cold Knap Lake’ by Gillian Clarke.
Read the article to the class, then read them Robert Frost’s poem before they read it on the page. They need to be trained to listen for the sound of poetry, and first readings should always be aloud.
Here are two rhyming poems. First, Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, which uses full rhymes and an unusual pattern. The second poem is Gillian Clarke’s ‘Cold Knap Lake’, which uses half-rhymes, with a full rhyming couplet at the end.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only othersound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost’s poem has full rhymes, and a lovely, unusual rhyme pattern. Using the alphabet as a code, the pattern can be shown to be:
a, a, b, a. c, c, d, c. d, d, e, d. e, e, e, e.
It is important for the class to listen to the poem, to understand the ‘story’, to notice the language and enjoy the sound before they start to work out the rhyme pattern. After that they might enjoy applying the above alphabet code, and to work it out themselves.
Draw the children’s attention to the world the poem decribes, which is quite unlike our own. We may have seen this aspect of America in films.
Robert Frost was born in 1874 and lived in New England, in America, for most of his life. Winter in New England is always snowy. Discuss the way people would get around in New England a hundred years ago. Find out why it is called New England. Does the rhythm of the poem echo the trotting of the pony?
Gillian Clarke’s use of rhyme is quite different. It would be useful for the class to see the poem on the page as they hear it read aloud, before examining the rhyme pattern and cracking the code.
Cold Knap Lake
We once watched a crowd
pull a drowned child from the lake.
Blue-lipped and dressed in water’s long green silk
she lay for dead.
Then kneeling on the earth,
a heroine, her red head bowed,
her wartime cotton frock soaked,
my mother gave a stranger’s child her breath.
The crowd stood silent,
drawn by the dread of it.
The child breathed, bleating
and rosy in my mother’s hands.
My father took her home to a poor house
and watched her thrashed for almost drowning.
Was I there?
Or is that troubled surface something else
shadowy under the dipped fingers of willows
where satiny mud blooms in cloudiness
after the treading, heavy webs of swans
as their wings beat and whistle on the air?
All lost things lie under closing water
in that lake with the poor man’s daughter.
The last two rhyming words draw attention to each other, so they are the two most important words in the poem.
The poem begins with half-rhyme, pairing ‘crowd’ with ‘dead’, ‘lake’ with ‘silk’, and so on. It tells the true story of a little girl who almost drowned in a lake close to where the poet lived when she was a young child. The witness is the poet, aged 5 or 6. Her mother was a nurse.
It is a true story, but by the end of the poem it sounds like a nursery rhyme. The story sounds like a legend about a child who nearly drowned, a heroine who saved her, and a cruel father. The poet wonders did she really remember it? (actually she did). Or was it like one of the fairy stories she knew as a child? The full rhyming couplet seems the right way to end a fairy story.
Discuss why the father smacked his child. Was he frightened and shocked to hear about what happened to his child? Do we always act sensibly when we are shocked? Talk about memory. How do we remember things that happened when we were very young? What is the earliest memory of each child in the class?
Do we sometimes mix up thngs that actually happen with stories people tell us?
1. Look for New England on a map.
2. Find out more about Robert Frost on the internet or in your library.
3. Let the class find as many rhymes as they can think of for ‘snow’, ‘woods’, ‘trees’, ‘lake’, ‘daughter’, ‘swan’, ‘child’, ‘drowned’. Let these be called out, one by one.
3. Divide the class into groups. Each group should choose a theme from either of the two poems - snow, woods, a park, a lake, swans. Then each child should write one rhyming couplet about the chosen theme. The group should read their couplets to each other, and try to fit them together to make a group poem. Before reading each of these poems to the whole class, the groups can discuss which words they should change to make the poem better. Then they can work out how best to present the poem to the class.
4. Write about stopping by snowy woods from the pony’s point of view.
5. ‘Cold Knap Lake’ is told from the point of view of the child watching - the poet herself. Tell the story from the point of view of the child who nearly drowned.