Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Assonance & Alliteration

On yesterday’s show, Ron asked about the difference between assonance and alliteration. Both terms apply to poetic techniques.

Assonance is the deliberate repetition of similar vowel sounds, usually with a specific effect in mind, such as soothing or alarming. The appeal is to the ear, which is why most poetry should be read aloud, even when alone. The word comes from the Latin ad-, toward, and sonare, to sound.

Tennyson’s Lotos-eaters uses assonance to duplicate the drowsiness that a drug user might feel:
            The Lotos blooms below the barren peak:
            The Lotos blows by every winding creek:
            All day the wind breathes low with mellower tone
            Thro’ every hollow cave and alley lone,
            Round and round the spicy downs the yellow Lotos-dust is blown.

Alliteration is the deliberate repetition of similar consonant sounds, especially at the beginning of words. (Accidental alliteration is also a consideration since there are more consonants than vowels.) The word comes from the Latin ad-, toward, and littera, letter.

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven used alliteration. Notice the predominant D’s here:
            Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,              
            Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before

And in this section of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s The Windhover, notice the outbreak of M’s and D’s:
               I caught this morning morning's minion, king -
               dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
               Of the rolling level underneath him steady air . . .

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