probably always has been¡Xan aural art form. Poems
are intimately connected with music and sounds. To fully appreciate
poetry you have to understand some of the elements of sound that
are important in poems. The following definitions will help
you be more senstive to the various sound effects of poetry.
Remember, however, that "Poetry is a result of a relationship
among various elements and does not ever inhere specially in any
single element" (Brooks and Warren, Understanding Poetry
152). In this sense, when reading a poem, we should
always try to consider its various elements together, or matching
the sound and sense, but not just isolating a certain sound effect
or poetic element from its context.
Two other general
is a big word to describe something very small. Words that sound
like what they are trying to describe are onomatopoeic. Emily
Dickinson's use of the word "buzz" in "I
heard a Fly buzz¡Xwhen I died" is an example of onomatopoeia,
as are words like "splat,"¨"flop," "zip," "zoom,"¨ "bang,"
- read the
poems outloud to feel the various combinations of sound
- get the
patterns, or repetition, (of sounds and rhythm) of a poem
and then look for variations.
Sometimes a whole line of a poem
can be onomatopoeic. For example, Allan Poe's
"The Bells": (This poem also has a lot of alliteration,
consonance and assonance).
Hear the sledges with
What a world of merriment
their melody foretells!
they tinke, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
the stars that oversprinkle
the heavens, seem to twinkle,
time, time, time,
sort of runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation (¹aÅT)
that so musically wells
the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells --
From the jingling and
the tinkling of the bells.
. . .
Without being onomatopoeic, the sounds
of a poem can create some general moods or feelings, but they
have to be matched with its senses of the poem they appear
in. For instance, the easily pronounced consonants (e.g.
[l], [r], [m], [n]) and open and long vowels can be create a sense
of ease or fluidity (e.g. "I Asked my Mother to Sing"),
but nasal sounds ([m] & [n]) can create a sense of melancholy:
Explosive sounds ([t], [d], [g],
[k],[p] [b]), sometimes combined with short vowels, can
create a sense of vitality or difficulty.
Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
The smile on your mouth was the deadest
Alive enough to have strength to die ("Neutral
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. (Tennyson "Ulysses")
As you can see from these examples,
different sounds create different effects in different contexts.
They are meaningful especially when they occur in some kind of
|One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in
To stive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt (Theodore
Roethke "My Papa's Waltz")
is the repetition of vowels sounds, either at the beginning
of words or within words. For example, in "Neutral
Tones" Thomas Hardy uses assonance when he writes "Since
then, keen lessons that love deceives."
is the repetition of the pattern of consonants, as in
the words "lives" and "leaves."
is related to assonance and consonance in that alliteration
also involves the repetition of sounds, this time the repetition
of consonants at the beginning or middle of words. For
example, Robert Herrick's poem "Upon
Julia's Clothes" has the following line that repeats the
[b] sound (together with the [v] sound): "see That brave vibration
each way free." Another great example is "Upon
Julia's Voice" below.
is a sound device that usually entails the repetition of
the final vowel and consonant sounds in two words. There
are, however, different kinds of rhyme.
- Exact rhyme means that
the final vowel and consonants sounds are identical. The word
"cat," for example, is an exact rhyme with "hat," "fat," "sat,"
"mat," "pat," "rat," and other words.
- Slant rhyme is a type
of rhyme where the final consonant sound of two words is identical,
but the final vowel sounds are not the same. Emily Dickinson
was a master of slant rhyme. In "I
heard a Fly buzz¡Xwhen I died," lines one and three
in the first stanza are good examples of slant rhyme: "I heard
a Fly buzz¡Xwhen I died-- / The Stillness in the Room
/ Was like the Stillness in the Air / Between the Heaves of
Storm¡X" The words "Room" and "Storm" are slant
- End rhyme refers to
rhyming sounds that occur at the end of lines. For example,
in the final four lines of Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz"¨the
first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth lines
rhyme: "You beat time on my head / With a palm caked hard
by dirt, / Then waltzed me off to bed / Still clinging to
- Not all rhyming words, however,
have to be at the end of lines. Some poems have rhymes within
the lines. This is called internal rhyme. William Carlos
Williams uses internal rhyme in "The Dance"¨by rhyming
"round,"¨ "around," "impound"¨and "sound," even though
not all of these words occur at the ends of lines.
- If you want to chart the pattern
of rhymes in a poem, you determine its rhyme scheme.
The rhyme scheme of a poem is usually indicated by marking
lines that rhyme with the same letter. The rhyme scheme for
the Roethke stanza quoted above is abab, since the first and
third lines rhyme and the second and fourth lines rhyme.