Masculine ending and feminine ending are terms used in prosody, the study of verse form. "Masculine ending" refers to a line ending in a stressed syllable. "Feminine ending" is its opposite, describing a line ending in a stressless syllable. This definition is applicable in most cases; see below, however, for a more refined characterization.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!--
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
The final stressless syllables, creating feminine endings, are -bers, again -bers, -nest, and again -nest The final stressed syllables, creating masculine endings, are dream, seem, goal, and soul.
When masculine endings are rhymed (such as "dream" and "seem" in the previous example), the result is called a masculine rhyme (or single rhyme). In English-language poetry, especially serious verse, masculine rhymes comprise a majority of all rhymes. John Donne's poem "Lecture Upon the Shadow" is one of many that use exclusively masculine rhyme:
When lines with feminine endings are rhymed (such as "numbers" and "slumbers"), the result is termed a feminine rhyme (or double rhyme).
The following unstressed syllables of a feminine rhyme are often identity rhymes (all syllables the same), but do not have to be; they may be a mosaic rhymes, such as "expand me" and "strand thee".
The feminine rhyme is rare in a monosyllabic language such as English, but the gerund and participle suffix -ing can make it readily available[clarification needed]. The Hudibrastic relies upon feminine rhyme for its comedy, and limericks will often employ outlandish feminine rhymes for their humor. Irish satirist Jonathan Swift used many feminine rhymes in his poetry.
|Rhyming Syllables||Rhyme Pattern|
In French verse, a feminine rhyme is one in which the final syllable is a "silent" e, even if the word is masculine. In classical French poetry, two feminine rhymes cannot occur in succession. A masculine rhyme is one in which the final syllable is not a "silent" e, even if the word is feminine. In classical French poetry, two masculine rhymes cannot occur in succession.
Poems often arrange their lines in patterns of masculine and feminine endings, for instance in "A Psalm of Life" every couplet consists of a feminine ending followed by a masculine one. This is the pattern followed by the hymns that are classified as "87.87" in standard nomenclature (for this system see Meter (hymn)); an example is John Newton's "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken":
Here is a German example, from Goethe's verse:
The distinction of masculine vs. feminine endings is independent of the distinction between iambic and trochaic feet. For instance, the Longfellow and Newton examples above are written in trochaic tetrameter; the feminine endings occur in the full octosyllabic lines, with perfect final trochaic foot; and the masculine endings occur in the truncated seven-syllable lines, with an exceptional final monosyllabic foot. In contrast, the following poem by Oliver Goldsmith is written in iambic tetrameter; the masculine endings occur in ordinary octosyllabic lines, whereas the feminine endings occur with a ninth, extrametrical syllable:
Particularly in unrhymed verse, there occur lines that end in two stressless syllables, yet have the syllable count of lines with uncontroversial masculine endings. Consider the following four lines from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, written in iambic pentameter:
The first of these, with ten syllables, has an uncontroversial masculine ending, the stressed syllable more. The last line, with eleven syllables, has an uncontroversial feminine ending, the stressless syllable me. The second and third lines end in two stressless syllables (tri-us, on you). Having ten syllables, they are structurally parallel to masculine lines, even though they do not end in stressed syllables.
The metrist Marina Tarlinskaja (2014, 124) proposes to classify cases like Demetrius or fawn on you as masculine endings (her example is "To sunder his that was thine enemy", from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet). Thus for Tarlinskaja, "syllable 10 in masculine endings can be stressed or unstressed".
There remains a further logical possibility, an eleven-syllable line ending in two stressless syllables. In actual verse, such lines are rare at best, as Tarlinskaya notes ("syllable 10 in feminine endings is always stressed.)"
The terms "masculine ending" and "feminine ending" are not based on any cultural concept of "masculinity" or "femininity". Rather, they originate from a grammatical pattern of French, in which words of feminine grammatical gender typically end in a stressless syllable and words of masculine gender end in a stressed syllable.