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6.12: Sound in Poetry- Alliteration, Consonance, Assonance

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    Alliteration

    This is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Read the poem "There Come Soft Rains" by Sarah Teasdale below to see if you can spot the alliteration:

    There Will Come Soft Rains

    There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
    And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

    And frogs in the pool singing at night,
    And wild plum trees in tremulous white;

    Robins will wear their feathery fire,
    Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

    And not one will know of the war, not one
    Will care at last when it is done.

    Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
    If mankind perished utterly;

    And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
    Would scarcely know that we were gone.

    CC CC-BY-SA-4.0 Originator: Sara Teasdale

    Assonance

    This is the repetition of vowel sounds within a word. An example of assonance can be found in the following poem by Edgar Allen Poe:"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary..." Can you find any more?

    The Raven

    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
    Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
    As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
    `'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
    Only this, and nothing more.'

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
    And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
    For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
    Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
    Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    `'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
    Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
    This it is, and nothing more,'

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
    `Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
    That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
    Darkness there, and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
    Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
    But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
    This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
    Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
    Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    `Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
    Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
    Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
    'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
    In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
    Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
    Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

    Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
    By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
    `Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
    Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
    Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
    Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

    Much I marveled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
    Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
    Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
    With such name as `Nevermore.'

    But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
    That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
    Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
    On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
    Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
    `Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
    Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
    Of "Never-nevermore."'

    But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
    Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
    What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
    Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
    To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
    But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
    She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, me thought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
    Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    `Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
    Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
    Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
    Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

    `Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
    Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
    On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
    Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
    Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

    `Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
    By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
    Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
    Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

    `Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
    `Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
    Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
    Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

    And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
    On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
    And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
    Shall be lifted - nevermore!

    Consonance

    This is the repetition of consonant sounds at the end of words. An example of consonance is found in the following poem by Adrian Henry:

    “Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
    Love is a fanclub with only two fans
    Love is walking holding paintstained hands…"

    Exercise 6.12.1

    Read a stanza from Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem, ‘Natura naturans’. There is not enough space to quote the whole poem, but to give you some idea of the context of this stanza so that you can more fully appreciate what Clough is doing, it is worth explaining that ‘Natura naturans’ describes the sexual tension between a young man and woman who sit next to each other in a railway carriage. They have not been introduced, and they neither speak nor exchange so much as a glance. The subject matter and its treatment is unusual and also extraordinarily frank for the time of writing (about 1849), but you need to know what is being described in order to appreciate the physicality of the lines I quote.

    Natura Naturans by Arthur Hugh Clough (1890)

    Flashed flickering forth fantastic flies,

    Big bees their burly bodies swung,

    Rooks roused with civic dim the elms,

    And lark its wild reveillez rung;

    In Libyan dell the light gazelle,

    The leopard lithe in Indian glade,

    And dolphin, brightening tropic seas,

    In us were living, leapt and played: (Clough, 1890, p.262)

    1. What is the single most striking technique used, and what are the effects?
    2. How would you describe the imagery, and what does it contribute to the overall effect?
    Answer

    1) Visually the use of alliteration is striking, particularly in the first line and almost equally so in the second. If you took the advice above about paying attention to the physical business of articulating the words too, you should be in a good position to discriminate between the rapidity of the flies and the heavier movement of the bees, and to notice how tactile the language is. The effect is actually to create sensuality in the stanza.

    2) Notice that though we begin with flies, bees and rooks, all of which are fairly common flying creatures, we move to the more romantic lark with its ‘wild’ song, and then to the positively exotic gazelle, leopard, and dolphin. From the rather homely English air (flies, bees, birds), we move to foreign locations ‘Libyan dell’ and ‘Indian glade’, and from there to ‘tropic seas’. (Cod in the North Sea would have very different connotations from dolphins in the tropics.) Air, earth, and sea are all invoked to help express the variety of changing highly charged erotic feelings that the speaker remembers. The images are playful and preposterous, joyfully expressing the familiar poetic subject of sexual attraction and arousal in a way that makes it strange and new. Notice that in each case the image is more effective because the alliteration emphasizes it.

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