There is something almost biological about rhythm. Maybe it has something to do with heartbeat and breathing; may it has something to do with the rhythms of nature, of which there are many: the phases of the moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the movement of clouds across the sky, even the way flowers and trees sway in the breeze. Other creatures certainly possess rhythm: birds (both in their singing and in their flying), butterflies, the sinuous movements of snakes, the movements of schools of fish, the dreamy swaying of jellyfish and the tendrils of sea anemones. Of course, art is all about rhythm—not just in music (drumbeats, ballerina pirouettes and so on), but the rhythms one sees in paintings and sculptures. The most important thing about rhythm, at least from a writer’s perspective, is the role it plays in holding the reader’s or listener’s attention.
If you read and write poetry, you understand the importance of rhythm, the combination of stressed and unstressed syllables, the pauses that add emphasis and connotations to words and phrases. Prose also has its rhythms. They’re not as pronounced as the poetic ones, but sentences need to be sufficiently varied to permit ease of reading. Construct too many sentences the same way and they’ll seem choppy, mechanical.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Rhythm is as important in writing as it is in all the other arts, in nature, and even in our own physiology and behavior. Life pulsates; we are most alive when we satisfy our instinct for rhythmic gratification.
Compose a number of short poems, each one expressing a distinctive rhythmic character. Construct one poem predominantly with anapests (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed, as in “‘Twas the NIGHT before CHRISTmas and ALL through the HOUSE …”; another poem with trochees (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed, as in “HOLD me, KISS me, LOVE me”); and yet another poem based on a rhythmic pattern of your own devising.