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Literature Glossary

Don’t be an oxymoron. Know your literary terms.

Over 200 literary terms, Shmooped to perfection.



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).