An onomatopoeia is a word whose sound is similar to the action it refers to, such as “buzz” or “hiss.” Using onomatopoetic words in a poem can help increase the sensory impact of the poem, creating vivid imagery because the words themselves evoke sounds as well as meaning.
Down on the ocean floor, deep in the sea, everybody’s dancing. Ready? ONE, TWO, THREE!
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In poetry, you will often find that the writer repeats sounds, words, ideas, lines, or even entire stanzas. For example, a poem might start each line with the same words, or it might repeat a stanza several times, making a chorus or “refrain.”
When you repeat something in a poem, this is called “repetition.” Repetition helps draw the reader’s attention to a thought, idea, or feeling. It can make the main idea of the poem more memorable.
Just as readers enjoy rhythm and rhyme in poems, repetition
can also be pleasant. Here are a few ways you can include repetition in your
Repeat the Beginnings of Lines
Probably the easiest way to include repetition in a poem is
to repeat the first words of each line through most or all of the poem. Pick a few
words that describe the main idea of your poem and use those words over and
For example, if you were writing a poem to tell someone how
nice they are, you might begin each line with, “I like you because…” If you were
writing a poem about what gifts you would like from Santa Claus for Christmas,
you might start each line with, “This Christmas I want…”
And your repeated phrase doesn’t have to be long. It can be just one or two words, such as “You are…” or “School is…”
In my poem “I Didn’t Go Camping,” I repeat the words, “I Didn’t…” at the beginning of many of the lines, like this:
I Didn't Go Camping
I didn’t go camping. I didn’t go hiking. I didn’t go fishing. I didn’t go biking.
I didn’t go play on the slides at the park. I didn’t watch shooting stars way after dark.
I didn’t play baseball or soccer outside. I didn’t go on an amusement park ride.
I didn’t throw Frisbees. I didn’t fly kites, or have any travels, or see any sights.
I didn’t watch movies with blockbuster crowds, or lay on the front lawn and look at the clouds.
I didn’t go swimming at pools or beaches, or visit an orchard; and pick a few peaches.
I didn’t become a guitarist or drummer, but, boy, I played plenty of Minecraft this summer.
I have used this kind of repetition in quite a few poems. If you like poems that repeat the first words of the lines, here are a few more you might enjoy:
Another way to emphasize or strengthen the idea of a poem is
to repeat a single line over and over, possibly on every other line.
Here’s an example of a poem where I have repeated a line of
conversation where one person says the same thing over and over.
I Need to Go Potty
I need to go potty. Just hold it. You’re fine. I need to go potty. I heard you. Don’t whine. I need to go potty. You just went at noon. I need to go potty. We’re getting there soon. I need to go potty. You’ll just have to wait. I need to go potty. Whoops. Now it’s too late.
In this poem, the repetition of the line, “I need to go potty” emphasizes the urgency with which the speaker is trying to make his or her point. Unfortunately, the other person in the poem — probably the parent — doesn’t realize just how urgent the situation is until it’s too late.
Repeating Several Lines
When you repeat several lines, or an entire stanza, throughout
a poem, this is called a “refrain.” In a song it’s called a “chorus.” Using
refrains is another way to emphasize or strengthen the main idea or feeling of
your poem. And because a refrain in a poem can be just like a chorus in a song,
using refrains can make your poems feel or sound more like songs.
Here’s a poem I wrote about a five-year old pirate named Francis who, because of his age, was not yet very good at pirating. Notice that I repeat the same lines at the end of every other stanza, making the poem sound a lot like a “sea shanty” (a sailor’s work song) much like “Yo Ho, Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me).”
Francis the Five-Year-Old Pirate
He ain't got a beard and he ain't got a scar. He ain't a cantankerous codger. He isn't a scum with a tankard of rum. He don't fly a black Jolly Roger.
He ain't got a parrot that sits on his shoulder. He isn't all ornery and irate. He's not old enough to be rugged and rough. He's Francis the Five-Year-Old Pirate. Yo, Ho! Yo, Ho! He's Francis the Five-Year-Old Pirate.
He don't like to pillage. He don't like to rob. He don't like to bury his treasure. He don't like to shoot or to ransack and loot or commandeer ships for his pleasure.
No ships has he sank or made men walk the plank, or hang from the yardarm and gyrate. And everyone knows he don't keelhaul his foes. He's Francis the Five-Year-Old Pirate. Yo, Ho! Yo, Ho! He's Francis the Five-Year-Old Pirate.
He ain't got a cutlass. He ain't got a sword. He ain't got a musket or dagger. He ain't learned his duty to plunder for booty and strut with a braggardly swagger.
He don't have an eyepatch. He don't have a hook. He's barely a bucaneer flyweight He ain't got no gold cuz he's not very bold. He's Francis the Five-Year-Old Pirate. Yo, Ho! Yo, Ho! He's Francis the Five-Year-Old Pirate.
Now It’s Your Turn
At the risk of repeating myself (see what I did there?), repetition can be a very effective way to get your point across in a poem, and to make the poem more memorable and enjoyable to read.
Now that you’ve seen several different ways to include repetition in poems, I hope you’ll be on the lookout for in when you read poetry, and maybe even try your hand at writing some repetition poems of your own.
In the last two Rhythm in Poetry lessons, we discussed the “iamb” and the “trochee.” Each of these is a two-syllable poetic “foot.” But iambs and trochees aren’t the only kinds of poetic feet. There are other types of two-syllable feet and even a few different three-syllable feet.
Let’s See the Spondee
The “spondee,” (pronounced “SPON-dee”) is a two-syllable foot in which bothsyllables are stressed. It is not as common as the iamb and the trochee, but it has a very interesting sound, as you’ll hear in a moment.
A poem written in spondees is said to be in “spondaic.” For example, my poem “Snow Day” is written in spondaic, meaning that every syllable is a stressed syllable. Here’s how it begins:
/ / “No school! / / Just snow. / / Way cool! / / Let’s go!”
As you can see, each line in this poem has two syllables, and each syllable is stressed, meaning each line is a single spondee.
While there are some two-syllable words in English in which both syllables are stressed, such as “bookmark,” “handshake,” “groundhog,” “picnic,” “sunset,” etc., most spondees are formed with two words, such as “hip hop,” “sit down,” “go slow,” and so on.
If you are writing poems in spondaic, you can use
one-syllable or two-syllable words, as long as all of the syllables are
stressed. In general, it is harder to write in spondaic than in iambic or
trochaic but, now that you know about spondees, maybe you’ll want to give it a
Let’s Meet the Triple Feet
In English, it’s possible for poetic feet to contain more
than two syllables. A poem written using three-syllable feet is called “triple
The most common three-syllable feet are the “dactyl”
(pronounced “DAK-tuhl”) and the “anapest” (pronounced “AN-uh-pest”). Let’s
start with the dactyl.
Fingers on Your Feet
Have you heard of the flying dinosaur called the
pterodactyl? From the Greek language, “ptero” means “wing” and “dactyl” means “finger.”
So a pterodactyl gets it’s name from the fact that it has fingers on its wings.
In poetry, a “dactyl” also gets its name from fingers, but
in a different way. Just as your fingers have three joints, or knuckles, a
dactyl has three syllables.
When a poem is written in dactyls, we call it “dactylic”
(pronounced “dack-TILL-ick”). Some examples of dactylic words include “poetry,”
“alphabet,” “excellent,” etc. Do you notice how each of these words is stressed
on the first syllable (PO-uh-tree, AL-fuh-bet, EX-suh-lent)?
One common form of poem written in dactylic is the “double-dactyl,” also known as a “higgledy-piggledy.” It is called a double-dactyl because every line contains two dactyls, and one of the words is a six-syllable “double-dactylic,” word. It is sometimes called a “higgledy-piggledy” because these are often the first words of the poem.
Here’s one I wrote about Doctor Frankenstein and his monster:
/ - - / - - Higgledy-piggledy / - - / - - Modern Prometheus / - - / - - Victor von Frankenstein, / - - / made a new life
/ --/ - - Bioelectrically. / - - / - - Creature was lonely, said, / - - / - - "If you're not busy, please / - - / make me a wife."
The Anapest Strikes Back
Just as the word “dactyl” comes from Greek, the word “anapest” comes from a Greek word meaning “struck back” or “reversed.” This is because the anapest is the reverse or opposite of the dactyl. That is, an anapest is a three-syllable foot where the stress is on the last syllable instead of the first.
When you write a poem using anapests, it is called “anapestic.” One of the best-known anapestic poems in English is Clement Moore’s famous poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” also called “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
- - / - - / - - / - - / ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house - - / - - / - - / - - / Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
While, as Dr. Seuss’ said, “You have feet in your shoes,”
you also now have several new feet in your head. Poetic feet, that is. And, in
just these few lessons, you have learned nearly everything you need to know
about rhythm in poetry.
You can use these new feet, and the ones we learned earlier, to create rhythmical – or “metrical” – poems of your own and make them just as fun to read as the works of famous poets like Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and Jack Prelutsky.
When you read poems, you will sometimes come across things that don’t sound right to you. Often, this is because people pronounce some words differently depending on where they grew up. The writer of the poem may have grown up somewhere that they pronounce things a little differently than you do.
Probably the most well-known example is the word “tomato.” In Britain, this word is pronounced “toe-MAH-toe,” whereas in America it is pronounced “toe-MAY-toe.”
Similarly, “pajamas” is pronounced “puh-JAW-muhz” (rhymes with “llamas”) in Britain, but can be pronounced either “puh-JAM-uhz” (rhymes with “panoramas”) or “puh-JAW-muhz” in America. And, in America, “dance” rhymes with “France,” while in Britain “dance” is often pronounced “dahns.”
I once wrote a poem for a publisher in India where I rhymed “face” with “vase.” (In America, these two words rhyme with one another.) My publisher was very confused because in India, as well as Britain and much of the world, “vase” is pronounced “vahz” (rhymes with “jaws”).
When I read poems by British authors, sometimes I am surprised by their rhyme choices. For example, I recently saw “speedier” rhymed with “media” because Brits often do not pronounce the r’s at the ends of words.
Dealing with different pronunciations
In general, it’s a good idea to think about who your readers might be. When you run into a word that your readers may pronounce differently than you, you may want to choose a different rhyme. For example, instead of saying:
I like to sing and dance.
You might say:
I like to dance and sing.
A syllable and a half
Another problem you might encounter has to do with the number of syllables in a word.
Many types of poems require counting syllables, or counting “feet,” which are groups of syllables. For example, haiku usually have five syllables on the first and last lines, and seven syllables on the second line. Sonnets normally have five feet of two syllables each, ten syllables total, on each line.
When I write poems, I not only think about the rhymes, but also the rhythm, or “meter” of the words. I usually count feet rather than syllables, but it still requires knowing how many syllables are in any given word.
For most words, the number of syllables is pretty easy to count. “Cat” is clearly a one-syllable word. “Mother” is easy to identify as two syllables. But not every word in English is pronounced the same way by everyone.
Depending on where you live, you may pronounce things a little differently than people in other places. Sometimes this can change the number of syllables you hear when you pronounce certain words.
For example, take the word “poem.” Depending on where you live, this might be pronounced “POE-uhm,” “poe-EHM,” or even “pome.” If you pronounce it “pome,” you might rhyme it with “home,” but this might sound wrong to people in other parts of the country or world. Regardless of how you pronounce it, because other people might pronounce it with a different number of syllables, which would make the rhythm different to them than it is to you.
When a word can be correctly pronounced with one syllable or two, I call these “one-and-a-half-syllable words.” Other examples include words such as “orange” (which some pronounce “OR-uhnj” while others say “ornj”) and “fire” (which many would argue is a one-syllable word, while others say it rhymes with “higher,” which is definitely two syllables.
Similarly, there are many “two-and-a-half-syllable words,” such as “family” (which can be correctly pronounced with either two syllables — “FAM-lee” –or three — “FAM-uh-lee”) and “chocolate” (“CHOK-lit” or “CHOK-uh-lit”).
Dealing with different syllable counts
When you discover that other people may pronounce a certain word differently than you, you can fix the problem in one of two ways.
Substitute a different word
One easy way to solve this issue is to avoid the word by substituting a different one, such as “mother” or “father” in place of “family.”
Change the placement of the word
Another way to fix the problem is by placing the word where it can be pronounced either way without affecting the rhythm.
For example, instead of saying:
My family is very nice.
You might say:
I really like my family.
This way, regardless of whether your readers pronounce “family” as two syllables or three, it doesn’t affect the rhythm of the line.
Whenever you encounter words that others might pronounce differently than you, it’s good to keep these words in mind when you are writing poems that require rhythm or syllable counting so that your poems can be read more easily by everyone, no matter where they are.
After many, many years with the same look, a look that was beginning to get a little long in the tooth, I have completely redesigned the look of Poetry4kids.com. It was a big project that took most of the summer, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years.
Of course, as with all big projects, there’s still some cleanup to do. Over the coming weeks I will be going through the site’s many hundreds of pages to ensure that everything is working just as it should.
In a way, this poem is like a movie I saw when I was young. It was called, “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” and it was about a college student who became a genius after an accident involving his school’s computer. Of course, this could never really happen, so please don’t eat your brother’s phone. Instead, just enjoy the poem and maybe a few more while you’re at it!
Here’s a video of me reciting the title poem from my book, My Cat Knows Karate. This new book has a number of poems about pets, animals, and sports, and this poem brings all three ideas together into a single poem.
I’m very excited to announce the publication of my newest book, My Cat Knows Karate. This collection includes seventy new poems about goofy gadgets, kooky characters, funny families, absurd situations. Beautifully illustrated by Rafael Domingos, My Cat Knows Karate is chock-full of the ridiculous rhymes, wacky wordplay, preposterous punchlines, and guaranteed giggles that kids love to read.
Sometimes when you’re writing a rhyming poem, you may want to include a word or phrase that rhymes with itself, such as itsy-bitsy or super-duper. These are known “reduplicated” words or phrases. “Reduplication” is the term for words or phrases that are created by repeating sounds. Here is a list of rhyming reduplicated words and phrases that may come in handy to you sometime.
fight or flight
low and slow
make or break
out and about
pedal to the metal
pie in the sky
rough and tough
shake and bake
steak ‘n shake
stop and shop
Non-Rhyming Reduplicated Words and Phrases
Some reduplicated words and phrases don’t quite rhyme because they contain different vowel sounds, such as ping-pong or zigzag. Here is a list of reduplicated words and phrases that don’t rhyme.