English Communication Confidence Blog

Valentine's Day Special: Intonation Patterns of Poetry

Feb 13, 2023

Melody is usually something easy to recognize in a tune or poem. Adding melody to our voice isn't so different as long as we understand the emphasis and rhythm of our speech. I thought we could spend this Valentine's Day week practicing the intonation patterns of a clichéd Valentine's Day poem. Wha'da'ya say? 


Valentine's Day Special: Intonation Patterns of Poetry


Roses are red, 

Violets are blue, 

Sugar is sweet, 

And so are you! 


Happy Valentine's Day! It's the day of clichés...roses, chocolates, pink and red everything everywhere...and poems! 


And by poems, I'm talking about one specific poem you might have heard already time and time again – probably some version of it at least.


Where did the opening poem come from? Nowadays there are endless variations and spin-offs to it. 


I went into a little bit of a rabbit hole and can you believe that the origins of this poem can be traced back as far as 1590 by Sir Edmund Spenser? His poem, "The Faery Queen," is an allegorical work in praise of Queen Elizabeth I and her virtues. Take a look! (Oh, and don't be surprised by all the odd spellings. They're weird for me too!)


It was upon a Sommers shynie day, 

When Titan faire his beams did display, 

In a fresh fountain, farre from all the mens vew, 

She bath'd her brest, the boyling heat t'allay; 

She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew, 

And all the sweetest flowers, that in the forest grew." 


Phew!...that was a bit of a mouthful. It probably goes without saying that I'm thankful for how much the English language has changed over the centuries. 


Check out this version of the same poem that came out in 1784 by Joseph Ritson. 


"The rose is red, the violet's blue 

The honey's sweet, and so are you. 

Thou art my love and I am thine;

I drew thee to my Valentine: 

The lot was cast and then I drew, 

And Fortune said it shou'd be you"


It's interesting to note how this poem has survived all these years despite its various changes. 


I'd probably say the reason why this poem has become so immensely popular is due to the quick and simple rhyme and melody it produces. 


It's an effective melody! 


Just think of your favorite song or even a popular song – effective melodies are what listeners sing along to and remember. 


Melody plays a significant role in our experience of a song or poem's emotion, personality, and meaning. 


So, if you want your speech to be effective and resonate with a listener... or considering the special date...if you'll be speaking to a Valentine, you'll want to focus on your melody as you speak! 


In songs and poetry, melody matters and there are ways that you can apply its elements to your conversational speech to add more depth and character. 


First off – pitch is how high or low a note sounds. Remember, melodies are often comprised of a variety of high and low notes played consecutively. 


In other words, remember that when you talk, you'll want to say certain words with a higher pitcher and others with a lower pitch. 


Which words are these? As a general rule, say your FOCUS words in the highest pitch. Let's say the capitalized words below are the FOCUS words and that you'll be stressing them with the highest pitch. 


ROSES are red, 

VIOLETS are blue, 

SUGAR is sweet,

And SO are you.


Wanna hear me say it? Click here.


Poetry tends to have recurring repetition. You can hear this recurring repetition with the placement of the FOCUS word at the beginning of the first three lines. Even the rhythm of those words: ROses, VIolet, SUgar, places the melody on the first syllable since that's the stressed syllable.


Recurring repetition doesn't exist so much in speech which can make it harder to know where the FOCUS words are. It might be a great idea for you to read poetry aloud so that you can practice interpreting each poem differently.


In other words, would the meaning change in some way if we put the melody on a different word in a line?


Check out this alternative way of reading the same poem above. Can you hear how the third line has a different melodic pattern? Which word has the highest pitch? Write your answer in the comments and next week I'll be back to tell you! 


I'm confident that the more you read poetry and play with the pitch patterns in your voice, the more comfortable you'll feel using melody in your speech. 


Wishing you a lovely Valentine's Day filled with chocolates and intonation!

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