Feminine Rhyme Definition
Feminine rhyme is an unstressed two syllable rhyme followed by another unstressed syllable rhyme. They are used between the stressed rhyme to create a rhythm. In other words, feminine rhyme is also a double rhyme. For example, in the rhyming words fashion and passion the first syllables are stressed rhyming while –‘sion’ sound similar and are unstressed. It always, or in most cases, uses a dactylic meter or stressed and unstressed metrical pattern.
It is unclear why such a rhyming pattern has been named as feminine rhyme. Perhaps it is because the female voice is unstressed or unaccented and this unstressed rhyming pattern creates a mute rhythm.
Examples of Feminine Rhyme from Literature
Desire by Philip Sydney
“But yet in vain thou hast my ruin sought,
In vain thou mad’st me to vain things aspire,
In vain thou kindlist all thy smoky fire.
For virtue hath this better lesson taught,
Within myself to seek my only hire,
Desiring naught but how to kill desire.”
The above stanza is the second part or sestet of Sydney’s sonnet “Desire.” Although the subject matter of the poem and the overall thematic strand is quite different from its rhyming pattern, sestet shows the use of feminine rhyme. All the final syllables of the last words of the lines are unstressed or unaccented. This is one of the best examples of a feminine rhyme. Just note the pattern of the rhyme scheme where “fire and aspire,” “sought and taught,” and “hire and desire” rhyme in such a way that the final unstressed syllable rhyme with the following words which are written in the same pattern.
London, 1802 by William Wordsworth
“Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.”
This extract is the first part of Wordsworth’s sonnet “London, 1802.” This is one of the best sonnets that open with an apostrophe, calling Milton to see the country at the time when the sonnet was written. Almost all the rhyming words in this part of the sonnet have the final syllables unstressed such as in “hour, bower, dower” and “power” and then in “fen, pen” and “men.”
On a Certain Lady at Court by Alexander Pope
“Not warp’d by passion, awed by rumour;
Not grave through pride, nor gay through folly;
An equal mixture of good-humour
And sensible soft melancholy.”
There is a notion that feminine rhyme suits dismissive or humorous poetry or the poems where the theme is indifferent. The word “rumor” and “humor” and “folly” and “melancholy” have unstressed syllables at the end. Therefore, this is another good example of feminine rhyme pattern.
The Day of Wrath by Ambrose Bierce
“Day of Satan’s painful duty!
Earth shall vanish, hot and sooty;
So says Virtue, so says Beauty.
Ah! what terror shall be shaping
When the Judge the truth’s undraping—
Cats from every bag escaping!
The rhyming scheme of this poem by Bierce also shows perfect use of feminine rhyme. The words “duty, sooty” and “beauty” show the use of feminine rhyme scheme as the last syllables in all the three words are unstressed. The same is the case of the other two stanzas where the final words have last unstressed syllables such as in “invocation, condemnation” and “invitation.”
Yankee Doodle Song
“Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni
Yankee Doodle, keep it up
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Mind the music and the step
and with the girls be handy!”
These are the first two stanzas of the song. As you read the song or sing along, you will find the last rhyming words are feminine rhymes. They have the unstressed syllables in the ending such as in “pony” and “macaroni” and in “dandy” and “handy.”
Feminine Rhyme Meaning and Function
The fundamental feature of the feminine rhyme scheme is to suppress the high-pitched voice of the first stressed syllables. This brings a new type of musical quality in the rhyming pattern that makes the person recite such poetry with full force but let the reader exhale slowly by the end of the line.