Poets often find themselves backed into a corner when writing more traditional rhyming poetry. They find they’ve ended a line with the unpromising word ‘orange’ and now have to try to find a word that rhymes with it, or else change the offending word for something more rhyme-friendly. But ‘world’ is a curious example: a common and useful word for a poet to use, but one without many ready and available rhyming words. After all, what words rhyme with ‘world’?
Below we introduce some possible options, and propose some ways in which they might actually be woven into a poem so that they rhyme with the word ‘world’ but also sound natural and not overly forced.
This is surely a common word for poets to use precisely because it is one of the few well-known rhymes for ‘world’. The word ‘unfurled’ simply means ‘spread something out from a rolled or folded state, especially in order to be open to the wind’. So a flag might be unfurled when it’s put on a flagpole, or a leaf might become unfurled to the wind. Of course, the word might also be used metaphorically: for instance, to describe someone whose personality or spirit, previously kept folded up and locked away, has been ‘unfurled’ and let loose on the ‘world’.
‘Unfurled’ is both the past tense form of ‘unfurl’ and the past participle form. So you can say that ‘I have unfurled X’ (e.g., ‘I unfurled the flag’) or ‘the flag that was unfurled’ (or, if you wish to be more figurative, ‘the heart that was unfurled’).
The opening of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem ‘Concord Hymn’ provides a fine example of the unfurled/world rhyme in the context of flag-unfurling:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.
More rarely, a poet might adopt the opposite of ‘unfurled’. So ‘furled’ means ‘neatly and securely rolled or folded up’. It’s often used about things like umbrellas, which are rolled up when not in use, but again, the figurative possibilities are numerous.
The word ‘furled’ was memorably used – as a rhyme for ‘world’ – in Matthew Arnold’s classic poem ‘Dover Beach’, written in 1851:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
We all know what ‘curled’ means, and many things can be described as curled or curled round: hair, a snake, the edges of a book or sheet of paper, and so on. So ‘curled’ is an especially versatile rhyme for ‘world’.
As with ‘furled’ and ‘unfurled’, so ‘curled’ finds its complementary opposite in ‘uncurled’, a verb meaning to straighten out the curls in something – again, hair is one obvious example.
A synonym for ‘thrown’, the word ‘hurled’ is a powerful, energetic verb which is also one of the few perfect rhymes for ‘world’. There’s a good example in Henry Vaughan’s seventeenth-century poem ‘The World’:
I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years,
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world
And all her train were hurl’d.
‘Swirled’ is perhaps the best and most perfect rhyming word for ‘world’, because it not only rhymes with it: ‘swirled’ even contains ‘world’.
With a similar meaning to ‘swirled’ – many words that rhyme with world seem to denote a circular, coiled, or eddying motion or shape – this word also contains the sound of ‘world’, which is rather pleasing.
When is a rhyme not a rhyme? When it is rime riche, the French term for when two homophones are rhymed, e.g. whirled and world. Although one might quibble that the h should be aspirated in whirled, these two words are obviously nearly identical in sound, at the very least. And once again we have a strong, circular, eddying verb, which fits nicely with the roundness of ‘world’.
Pararhymes or half-rhymes for ‘world’:
Given the limited options for rhymes for ‘world’, you might decide that pararhyme, or consonance, is a better way to make the word ‘world’ chime with others at the ends of lines. Here are some of the best matches.
‘Wild’ is one of the best half-rhymes for ‘world’, if consonance or pararhyme is what you’re striving for, not least because of the shared first and last letters (‘w__ld’), as well as the established phrase, ‘wild world’.
Another good choice for the consonance of ‘world’ and ‘willed’, and the word ‘willed’ – as in ‘the spirit willed me to strive’, etc. – contains a tenacity and strength which may complement the grandeur and vastness of ‘world’ very neatly.
‘Bold’ is a common word and so would be quite a natural and organic ‘fit’ for a word like ‘world’. Again, they have the shared final consonants, but because their initial sounds differ, the effect is more subtle and delicate. ‘Bold’ and ‘world’ could be brought together at the ends of adjacent lines, for instance, but in a way that doesn’t appear forced or artificial.
Like ‘willed’, ‘bold’ is a nice strong, spirited word.
We’ll conclude this pick of words which rhyme with ‘world’ – or offer a good half-rhyme – with ‘hold’, another multi-purpose word which can be used to convey a variety of meanings.
A good example of the hold/world pararhyme is in the opening section of W. B. Yeats’s 1919 poem ‘The Second Coming’, where the off-rhyme conveys the chaos into which the world has been plunged. The old certainties are gone, so how can one possibly fall back on the certainty of rhyme?
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Discover more rhyme suggestions with these useful rhymes for ‘people’ and these rhymes and half-rhymes for ‘love’.
Words flutter in and out my brain. I’m sure – then I forget again.
Why can’t I hold them ’till they stay? Why must they always fly away?
I used to write and dream and know that every line and phrase would flow
and capture all that I had meant upon the page – I was content.
But now I feel the letters churn. LIke flicking flames they light and burn
and twisting, dodging, once they’ve twirled, float back beyond my memory’s world
Like litter, all my words are tossed. The gift of language sadly lost.
( A response to your challenge – unfortunately all true. I’m trying to keep my brain alive with Codeword puzzles during covid)
Here’s a poem I wrote inspired by your blog entry: “The whole world, unfurled before me, Adam sees.” Thanks! P.S. – Dover Beach is one of my favorite poems.
That’s wonderful! And yes, it’s one of my favourites – and great fun to teach when discussing Victorian attitudes to religion.
Easily one of the strangest posts you’ve done – but I liked it!
Thanks, Ken! It came out of my own struggles to find suitable rhymes for ‘world’ in a villanelle I had stupidly tried to write…
Great post. I write traditional poetry and enjoy trying out rhymes. My first instinct was ‘curled.’ I find myself criticising pop songs that don’t rhyme or repeat the same word as a rhyme. I haven’t posted a verse for a while. I’ll have a go with ‘world’ All good fun!
Thanks, Julie! Do let me know how you get on – I tried to write a poem rhyming ‘world’ with some of these, and it was a fun challenge.
burled (as in wood?)
Burled is a good addition – I’ll include that when I update this post!