The pararhyme, also called double consonance or sometimes a near rhyme, is a type of poetic convention that can be used to create dissonance in a poem. Though the term and the first use of pararhyme are credited to World War I English poet, Edmund Blunden, many associate this poetic convention with other poets of the 20th century. In particular, fellow WWI poet, Wilfred Owen is much noted for his use of it in his uncompleted poem Strange Meeting. Dylan Thomas and W.H. Auden also used this type of partial rhyme in certain poems.
The basic pararhyme usually has beginning and ending sounds that are the same, while altering the vowel sound of a word. Words that could be used in this manner include the following:
There are many other examples, and of course you can think of your own. Sometimes words that don’t have a rhyming accompaniment are used in a pararhyme format. So for example the word “silver” could be rhymed with “solver” and there are a few pararhymes for “orange” too, one of those words that simply defies rhyming.
This poetic technique was particularly effective in the graphic poems of Wilfred Owen, whose work still stands as out as a commentary on the horrors of World War I. Perhaps the most famous pararhyme of all, is hall/hell, used by Wilfred in the following lines from Strange Meeting: “And by his smile I knew that sullen hall, / By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.” The lack of rhyming sounds here and the very failure of two similar words to rhyme can provoke a sense of great discomfort and a sense that something is simply not quite right. It is a discordant note that matches well to the disturbing mood of the poem.
A similar technique to the pararhyme is the half rhyme. This is when words sound similar but may differentiate in ending or beginning, in addition to having a different vowel sound. W. B. Yeats used this technique quite often, rhyming words like mouth/truth or come/fame. Owen also made considerable use of the half rhyme, frequently interspersing half rhyme line endings with pararhymes, to give an overall distorted feel to the end of each line.
One of the things illustrated by pararhymes and half rhymes is that poetry should never be thought of as a silent art. Reading poems aloud when they contain these small language differences can make a significant difference in how a poem is felt, interpreted, and sensed. Some pararhymes leap off the page, and others are much more noticeable when a poem is read aloud.