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Other Matters of Sound

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Other Matters of Sound

The other major matters of sound that have yet to be discussed but are just as important are assonance, consonance, and alliteration.

  • Assonance: The same or similar vowel sound repeated in the stressed syllable of a word, followed by uncommon consonant sounds. Examples would be: hate and sale, or drive and higher.
  • Consonance: The same or similar consonant sound repeated in the stressed syllable, preceded by uncommon vowel sounds. Examples: urn and shorn, or irk and torque.
  • Alliteration: Repetition of sounds through more than one word or syllable. For example: Take the (extreme use of) the "L" sound that repeats in the following phrase: "The lurid letters of Lucy Lewis are luscious, lucid and libidinous."

All of these aural elements are mostly found within the lines of a poem rather than at the end. Sometimes they carry from one line to the next or over several lines. These are often used when a line or two seems to lack cohesion (the repeated sounds create pattern, thus structure) or to create a repeated set of sounds that will either A) stand apart from the words around them (because they are aurally different) or B) will make a pattern with their own sounds that can then be varied for emphasis. Take the use of alliteration as an example. The (rather simple) line above can easily illustrate two possibilities.

If the line came on the heels of something like:

The video clips taken by Frank in Louisville are dull but
the lurid letters of Lucy Lewis are luscious, lucid and libidinous.
Surely we haven't seen anything like them in years.

The alliteration in the second line makes it stand out from the others that surround it. Conversely, if we added a variance from the alliteration and made it:

The lurid letters of Lucy Lewis are luscious, crude and libidinous.

The emphasis is obviously on the word "crude," as it now stands apart from all the "L" sounds around it.

It is important to remember when implementing any of these techniques that the goal of structure in a poem is to contain the poem, to allow order and chaos to co-exist. If the structure becomes too apparent (to the point that it detracts from the experience of the poem, as in the "Lucy Lewis" example above,) it is doing its job poorly.

Works Cited

Hall, Donald. ed. Claims for Poetry. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2000.
Williams, William Carlos. Selected Essays of William Carlos Williams. Random House: New York, 1954.
Griffiths, Sarah and Kevin Kehrwald. eds. Delicious Imaginations: Conversations with Contemporary Writers. Notabell: West Lafayette, IN, 1998.
Wakowski, Diane. Toward a New Poetry. U of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 1980.