Ray's Introduction to Literature, Fall, 1998 Kate's
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, 
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. 
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offence, 
The sound must seem an echo to the sense. 
Examples: E. Bishop W. C. Williams  W. Steven W. H. Auden Robert Herrick    Encoding: Western

   Online Discussion

-- Ray's Class; Kate's Class
Sound and Rhythm
Poetry is¡Xand 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 suggestions:

  • read the poems outloud to feel the various combinations of sound and sense. 
  • get the patterns, or repetition, (of sounds and rhythm) of a poem and then look for variations.   
Onomatopoeia (ÀÀÁn¦r¡^ 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," etc.

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).

"The Bells":
  Hear the sledges with the bells--
          Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells! 
     How they tinke, tinkle, tinkle, 
           In the icy air of night!
     While the stars that oversprinkle
     All the heavens, seem to twinkle,
     Keeping time, time, time
     In a sort of runic rhyme, 
To the tintinnabulation (¹aÅT) that so musically wells
     From the bells, bells, bells, bells
            Bells, bells, bells --
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells. 
. . . 
Other Sound Effects
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

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove 
Over tedious riddles solved years ago; 

[... ]
The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing 
Alive enough to have strength to die ("Neutral Tones") 

The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep 
Moans round with many voices.  (Tennyson "Ulysses")

Explosive sounds ([t], [d], [g], [k],[p] [b]), sometimes combined with short vowels,  can create a sense of vitality or difficulty.
One equal temper of heroic hearts, 
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will 
To stive, to seek, to find, and not to yield"  (Tennyson "Ulysses") 

You beat time on my head 
With a palm caked hard by dirt (Theodore Roethke "My Papa's Waltz")

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 pattern. Sound Patterns

Assonance (¥ÀÃý) 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."

Consonance (¤lÃý) is the repetition of the pattern of consonants, as in the words "lives" and "leaves." 
Alliteration (ÀYÃý) 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.

Rhyme (¸}Ãý) 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 rhymes. 
  • 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 your shirt." 
  • 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. 
"Rhythm is . . . a basic function of all life.  In our very bodies it is the most constant fact of which we are aware -- the beat of the heart, the drawing of breath, the movement in walking" (Brooks and Warren, Understanding Poetry 124)   That's why we feel drumbeat to be like hearbeat, and a baby can be lulled to sleep by a mother's regular patting.  That's also why poems are to be read outloud.
Poetic rhythm¡]Ãý«ß¡^ refers to the alternation between the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem.  A stressed syllable receives more emphasis and stress than an unstressed syllable.  
If a pattern can be seen among stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem, that pattern is called meter (®æ). The two most common meters in English poetry are iambic meter (§í´­®æ) and trochaic meter (´­§í®æ). Iambic meter means there is a repetition of iambs. An iamb consists of two syllables, the first one is unstressed and the second one is stressed ("V + /"). When Elizabeth Bishop writes in "One Art"
Then  prac- tice  los- ing  far- ther,  los- ing  faster
V / V / V / V / V /

she is writing in an iambic meter.
Trochaic meter involves the repetition of trochees("/ +V"). A trochee is the opposite of an iamb: a trochee consists of one stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. In Shakespeare's play Macbeth, the three witches always speak in a trochaic meter: ¡
Dou- ble, dou ble, toil  and  trou ble.
/ V / V / V / V
Elizabeth Bishop  "One Art"
      General Questions
  1. In this poem about "the art of losing" the speaker list several things that have been lost: switching between things closeby (daily matters, mother's watch, you) to the others which are "farther" away and lost at a greater speed ("faster").   With the listing of things, the meanings of "losing" gets richer and richer.  What does it mean to "lose" places and names, two cities, two rivers and a continent?  How do we own them in the first places?
  2. Among the lost things on the other side, some are concrete possessions (e.g. keys and watch), but how about the rest (joking voice, gesture)?  Put together, what do these lost things suggest about the "losing" the speaker discusses here?
  3. Pay attention to the speaker's tone.   She repeats "The art of losing isn't hard to master" several times, does she mean it all the time?  What does the parenthetical expressions in the last stanza (e.g. "(Write it!)")

  4. Sounds and Rhymes

  5. The handout you got has one word missing (accidentally).  But you actually can figure out what it is if you find out the pattern of ryhmes.  What do you think are the effects of this regular rhyme scheme?   What do you think about the variation of the repeated line, the number of lines (from 3 to 4) and the rhymes?
  6. What do you think are the effects of the alternation in this poem between open and long vowels (e.g. "losing"; "lost door keys, the hour badly spent";"--Even losing you" ) and short vowels and explosive sounds(Accept the fluster";"(the joking voice, a gesture/ I love)")?

W. C. Williams  "The Dance" ( 1944 p. 604)
General Questions and Questions about Sound and Sense
Wallace Stevens "Anecdote of a Jar" E-Text
      Photo source: Wallace Stevens site
      "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock"

      Other Poems by Stevens (remote site)

       General Questions

  1. How is the jar related to nature?  Considering their interrelations, what are the symbolic meanings of the jar?

      Before answering this question, you need to look closely at
      1) what the jar does in the poem first and then what nature ("the wilderness") does in response.
      2) the word "Port" (l. 8)--which refers not to "a harbor" but to "bearing and attitude."  Compare this and the other descriptions of the jar in stanza two with those in stanza three.  How are they different?
      3) You can then try to decide the poet's attitude toward the jar, praising it for organizing nature, criticizing it for disturbing nature, or remaining ambivalent about it.  Pay attention to the last line of the poem.
  3. Why is the title called "an anecdote"?  What is the significance of the speaker, who placed the jar in Tennessee?  And why in Tennessee?  (Do we, for instance, know where Keats' urn is?)   In other words, is the jar itself a work of art, or the placing of the jar in a certain place?
    Sounds and Rhymes
  4. In this poem, like "The Dance," the word "round" is repeated, and both of the poem opening and closing lines end with Tennessee.  What do you think is the effect of these repetitions of sounds and words?  Also, pay attention to the other open vowels around the word "round."
  5. Are there rhymes in this poem?
    W. H. Auden  "Musee des Beaux Arts" (1938, p. 686)
    General Questions

     Sounds and Rhymes

    1.  After you figure out the meanings of the poem, pay attention to its hidden rhymes.
    2.  In this seemingly irregular poem, there is also a pattern in the variation of sentence lengths.   Is there any major difference between the first and the second stanzas?  Have you noticed that in the second stanza, all the activities are introduced in the middle of a line?  And then where is Icarus mentioned?

    Robert Herrick (1591- 1674) "Upon Julia's Clothes"
     General Questions 
    about the poem


    (More poems by Herrick "Upon a Chilld," "Upon a Child That Died" "Upon the Nipples of Julia's Breast")

    "Upon Julia's Voice" 

      So smooth, so sweet, so silv'ry is thy voice, 
      As, could they hear, the damned would make no noise, 
      But listen to thee (walking in thy chamber) 
      Melting melodious words, to lutes of amber.