How does a poet maintain the rhyme and rhythm of a poem? This has always baffled me. Basically, he/she uses repetition, the repetition of stressed and unstressed syllable patterns partially, maybe primarily, but also the repetition of words and phrases. Shifts in pace are important also, and serve to set off or mark important passages, but the changes of pace must be right psychologically. Changes in pace or rhythmical patterns indicate the psychological mind-set of the poet. It also allows the reader to think in the same thought patterns of the poet. Good rhythms reflect natural breath units. Just as one teaches a child to read in thought groups as opposed to word calling, the poet must allow the reader to assimilate the poem in rhythms that follow natural thought groups in order to transmit the desired meaning.
The poet extends the rhythm of the poem with line length. He can vary the line widely, stretching it out in a lulling fashion or bring it to an abrupt stop for emphasis. Often toward the end of the poem, a poet will wind down to shorter and shorter lines.
The poet who writes in free verse seems to me to have a greater obligation to keep in touch with the meaning of what is being said, for the rhythms are not dictated but spontaneous, and it must be imaginatively “right” or it doesn’t work. Perhaps it is partially rhythm that permits poetry to extend from the conscious to the unconscious and to recapture what has been lost in prose. Rhythm in poetry is perhaps as Robert Frost wrote about poetry in general, “…that part that can’t be translated.”