Rhyming Quatrains of Iambic Trimeter
How could the form of such a short poem have such a long name? Don't worry. We'll show you.
Each of the three stanzas in this Stanzas with four lines in them are called quatrains. These quatrains happen to rhyme, but not all that regularly. In each stanza, the second and fourth lines rhyme. In the first and last stanza, this rhyme is between "me" and "tree," while in the second stanza, the rhyme is between "air" and "prayer." That means the rhyme scheme goes a little something like this: ABCB ADED ABFB.
So, in the first and last stanzas, the first line rhymes with the second and fourth. In the second stanza, no such luck. And there's no rhyme at all for the poor neglected third lines, left all by themselves. But hey, you try rhyming "Jesus."
Moving on from the stanza structure and the rhyme scheme, we get to the reason why, when read aloud, this poem seems to have a distinct beat—it's written in iambic trimeter.
A Meter Fit for the Blues
An iamb is a poetic unit of sound, in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable. "Trimeter" means that there are three of these units of sound in every line, which means each line has three beats. Here's an example, with stressed syllables in bold and italics:
They hung my black young lover
In that line, we see an example of what is called a feminine ending, which means that at the end of the line of iambs, there's an unstressed syllable just hanging out, bein' all extra and stuff.
For the most part, though, this poem sticks to its form, with a bluesy riff now and then. And that word bluesy is key. Hughes was known for writing poems with blues rhythms (twelve bar blues, eight bar blues, you name it). This poem uses a similar meter and rhyme scheme as lots of blues songs, and that totally fits the subject matter if you ask Shmoop.