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Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  440 ratings  ·  58 reviews
A survey of the schemes, patterns and forms of English verse. John Hollander illustrates each variation with a self-descriptive example. In this third edition, he adds a section of examples taken from centuries of poetry that exhibit the patterns he has described.
Paperback, Third Edition, 154 pages
Published February 8th 2001 by Yale University Press (first published 1981)
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Nov 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
Read _Rhyme's Reason_ as one delights
In proper forms the poet writes.
With this attention getter
(A rondeau would be better)
I recommend this handy guide.

John Hollander, by way of me,
An humble critic, as you can see,
Makes sense of verse terrifically.
Read _Rhyme's Reason_.

My third edition brings my applause!
A good deal of poetic laws.
Find more familiar poetry
In history and society.
Shop wisely - heed the ooh's and ah's.
Read _Rhyme's Reason_.
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
It is exactly what it says it is, and I mostly got what I wanted from it. Rhyme's Reason goes over the many structures and forms that a poem can take. It can be kinda dry at times, but by the end of it, I had a decent grasp of shit like meter, feet, rhyming schemes, the formatting of poems, accents, and so on, whereas before my knowledge of poems was a bit scant. I can see this being a decent introduction to poetry actually (Harold Bloom mentions this one in his book How to Read and Why), for bo ...more
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book is chock full of great information about poetry. It talks about poetic devices, different forms and styles of poetry, and different sorts of feet, and all sorts of useful and relevant information. The problem is, this book is not organized at all, and the explanations are all given in the forms of the poems themselves, which is very clever but makes it hard to understand. It's hard to know what parts of a specific poem are real rules and which are arbitrary. I found it frustrating when ...more
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I discovered this book through a song by the Eagles, “No More Walks in the Wood” — which may seem odd to some. After listening to their album _Long Road Out of Eden_, I was very taken with this particular song. Notes about the song stated that in this song, the Eagles had put to music a poem by John Hollander, “An Old Fashioned Song”.

Looking for more information about Mr. Hollander, I learned (among other things) that he had been Sterling Professor of English at Yale, and Poet Laureate of Connec
Jan 08, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I decided to reread this now that I've had the chance to write many of the kinds of poems that are portrayed in this book.

What makes it ingenious is the same thing that, at times, can make it tedious to read. Holllander uses poems that he created to show what the effects of the sounds of meter and rhyme will do to the poems in which they are used. These examples are incredibly helpful to those who are unfamiliar with traditional poetic meters, but I wouldn't say this is a book for the novice poe
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Putting practice into action, Hollander teaches in verse and across forms. It's not always effective and becomes grating at times, to be honest, but as a reading experience it also has its moments of cleverness and joy. Describing the Malay pantum, precursor to the French pantoum, for instance, Hollander gives us a little gem which, he slyly introduces, "might be entitled 'Catamaran':
Pantuns in the original Malay
Are quatrains of two thoughts, but of one mind.
Athwart my two pontoons I sail away,
Mark Nenadov
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, poetry
This is a really unique little book. The author uses verse to teach about various forms of verse. So, instead of writing paragraphs upon paragraphs of explanation about accentual-syllabic verse, quatrains, iambic pentameter, etc, he tends to demonstrate it. He writes about verse in verse.

For example:

"Haiku, with seven
Syllables in between two
Shorter lines of five,"

Another example:

Have lines of four
Syllable, six, and eight
Ending, as starting, with a line
Of two,"

And another example:

"A tru
Richard Jespers
Sep 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is a nice, concise version of what I learned about particular rhetorical devices. Hollander does an admirable job of giving examples that also explain a particular patterns.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry-poetics
Clever little book with lots to like. I particular loved J.D. McClatchy's forward in the fourth edition, chock full of wisdom: "Writing poetry requires a predisposition--a temperament that can define joys and sorrows, that wants to set things in order, that wants to make loss into abundance."

Sort of unfair to judge Hollander's book by McClatchy's writing, though I think they share the same spirit. The book was valuable to me for clearly defining the distinction between verse and poetry, between
Randy Wilson
Nov 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a deceptively useful book. I thought it would describe lots of the different types of poems and poetic tools but it is even better than that, its examples of different types of poems with the author writing about the type of poem in poetic form.

We learn about villanelles, rondeaus, sestinas and even blues and ballads this way. The appendix should be integrated into the book because it provides so many great examples of other poets writing in these forms, showing even more types and techn
Matthew Koslowski
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019, craft
I found the main part of this book difficult to follow because of its lack of text features. The discussions of different metrical patterns flowed into each other, signaled only by an italicized word to indicate the transition. I'm so used to books with headings and spacing between sections that I was several transitions in before I noticed the pattern.

The section called "Patterns in Practice" at the back of the book was the most helpful. There, laid out with headings and spacing, were examples
Lindsey Grundyson
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent guide to poetic forms for someone not new to poetry. Hollander uses the poetic forms to describe them in the first part, a tactic both entertaining and demanding. Part two includes poetry on poetry. Part three is perhaps the most helpful as it gives examples of poetry for the forms discussed in part one. All in all, very helpful for someone looking to get more familiar with poetic forms!
Facundo Martin
Oct 29, 2018 rated it liked it
A run-on sentence —enjambment— going through the wide array of poetic forms and resources picked up by the English language, this book is at once a manual, and encyclopedia and an entertaining history of literature. The appendix contains additional examples of self-describing forms and there's another section at the end with more poems and verses. ...more
Jared Bennett
Aug 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
While this book won't give a technical, theoretical, and exhaustive look at the formal aspects of English verse, Hollander do a good job of showing you by example the flavors of verse forms a poet can choose from. He then leaves it up to you to dive deeper into the forms that interest you most ...more
Tony Barrera
A strange, but still useful showcase of various poetic forms and techniques.
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Charmingly, explains verse forms using verse form.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: uni, poetry
If you don't like this little book you must be a really really sad person.
I know, sometimes it may be a little strange, too meta, but the way Hollander writes is so engaging - and rich of humour, don't forget that - that it will surely and wholly catch your attention. Rhyme's Reason is one of the very few books I have read with great attention, and every time I had to go back and check structure/language/metrics/etc. I was always entertained.
It's a fun book which happens to be a strong source of
May 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding. Brings knowledge with a light touch. Many examples of common (and less so) verse forms.
Dec 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, 1981, anthology, clever
Bah! Now if someone asks me what my favorite book of verse is, I don't know if I should say Pegasus Descending or this. ...more
Feb 05, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It works. It is a reference book for poetry, it is, as John Hollander explicitly states, a manual. It contains within it the examples and the poetry to go with it - whether that be patterns in practice which demonstrates it with poems from the greats, or the actual book itself, which explains the terms.

However, if you are a beginner, honestly, this'll help but it's not the whole deal. It expects you to know the basics. If you don't, you won't know a thing. Another thing that particularly bothere
J. Alfred
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
1: This is a very fun, very clever, and generally admirable book.
2: This book mostly does not do what it professes to do as a "Guide to English Verse." As a guy who has thought lots about meter and trying to figure it out, I can say confidently that this does not help beyond what one can puzzle out for oneself.
Hollander pretends to be giving a handbook-style informative work for about five pages after the preface, and then abandons all pretense and simply gives a bunch of clever, talented poem
Aug 31, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in poetry, the aesthetic effects of language and the craft behind it
An efficient, effective and accessible explanation of poetic forms, features, terms, etc., with complete with examples designed for the occasion. If you've ever wondered what iambic pentameter, blank verse, free verse or a sonnet really was; what some of the differences in English, ancient Greek, and French poetic form are; or for that matter, what an anapest is, or something as esoteric as how the term dactylic came to refer to certain words (dactyl is Greek for finger or hand, and dactylic ori ...more
Nov 29, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: about-poetry, school, 2008
not a good introductory book. i found this book less than helpful at present -- i have a hard time conceptually with meter, although i can hear rhythm alright, i just do not easily connect the dots. there's nothing here to help with that. i imagine that this book is exceedingly clever if you already feel somewhat comfortable with rhyme and meter. hollander's many poems about poetics are witty and occasionally funny. this is a good supplementary book, or text for an intermediate to advanced stude ...more
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Clever and lighthearted, this guide provided a easily accesible introduction to the vocabulary of verse. Hollander provides simultaneous examples and explanations of the different forms and meters in English by writing in the form or meter he describes. His appendices give examples from literature of each term he discusses in his text. My only complaint is that in my edition, the page numbers in the appendices, which cross-referenced his discussion of the term in his text, were off making it mor ...more
Leisha Wharfield
Aug 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: poets
Recommended to Leisha by: Garrett Hongo
Again and again and again.
(Like the pounding of hard rain . . .

Wonderful hard rain pounding steady,
a bang of a storm, pound on my sturdy door
and keep banging hard even after I let you in.
Refreshing and wet rain excites. A man disappoints
me, John, when he breaks repetition that makes me scream
before I dream, but not of a man too brief
in his repetition. Give me Shel Silverstein!
I choose wonderful Dr. Seuss over you--
who bangs me steady again & again & again.
Jun 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: wordsmithing

Not a book for beginners. "Handbook of Poetic Forms" by Ron Padgett is better if you are just wading into poetry and are completely unfamiliar with the jargon.

Rhyme's Reason is a witty and quick explanation of English verse, best digested if taken in sections by either finding and reading the examples Hollander mentions or work through the descriptions by writing through them.

I wouldn't suggest just reading it through as an introduction to the topic.
Jul 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Hollander provides a clever Ars Poetica by writing about the entire gamut of poetic form as a poem, but this book is hardly a true guide. This would not be a good choice for first timers who want to understand poetic terms, especially those involving meter. I can't deny that Hollander is well versed in form, because he clearly knows his stuff. This book just becomes really frustrating when you're trying to learn something new and Hollander doesn't come out and tell you what you need to know. ...more
Aug 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is really fun to read. Also it's a nice guide to poetry. John Hollander uses lots of funny illustrative examples. Even though it is a mere pamphlet, however, I found the latter half a little too specific for my needs and the discussion in verse form was perhaps too cute and not sufficiently substantive. Still, now I know what a spondee is! ...more
I wasn't as in love with this book as I expected to be. I guess I didn't really understand that he composed all of the verse to illustrate the different forms, techniques, etc. Hollander is undoubtedly very talented, but I quickly tired of reading poetry about poetry. I would be interested in seeing a book that attempted the same scope, but using examples from well-known poets. ...more
Rus Segety
Picked this up in college-- A good text that helps explain 'poetry' in a way that is accessible to all readers; students and novices alike. It helps by giving a better understanding of the mechanics of poetry [via examples, literary histories, et cetera]. If you read this, you will have a better understanding and enjoyment from verse. ...more
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