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Literature Glossary

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Rhythm

Definition:

I've got rhythm! I've got music! I've got my man, who could ask for anything more?

Well, we could ask for a lot of things. Like a definition of rhythm. So here it is:

Rhythm is all about sound. Think of it as the beat of a piece of writing, often a poem. How does language create that beat? By creating (and then riffing off of) a pattern. That pattern can be made up of any number of things—repeated phrases, a mix of stressed and unstressed syllables, periodic pauses, even rhyme. Writers use all kinds of tools to create rhythm.

Sure, it's a bit hard to define. But we promise you'll know it when you hear it. In the meantime, it might be helpful to remember what it's not:

  • It's not meter. Meter can often be used to create rhythm, but meter refers to a formal and specific pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables.
  • It's not cadence. Cadence, too, is a part of rhythm, but cadence refers specifically to the moments the language speeds up or slows down.

And, Shmoopers, remember this: rhythm is gonna get you. It's best to give up, quit running and feel the beat (of the rhythm of the night).

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