SOUND DEVICES USED IN POETRY

 A List of Definitions

 

Sound devices are resources used by poets to convey and reinforce the meaning or experience of poetry through the skillful use of sound.  After all, poets are trying to use a concentrated blend of sound and imagery to create an emotional response.  The words and their order should evoke images, and the words themselves have sounds, which can reinforce or otherwise clarify those images.  All in all, the poet is trying to get you, the reader, to sense a particular thing, and the use of sound devices are some of the poet’s tools.

 

These definitions, by the way, come by way of the Glossary of Poetic Terms, which can be found on the Internet at http://shoga.wwa.com/~rgs/glossary.html

 

ACCENT

The rhythmically significant stress in the articulation of words, giving some syllables more relative prominence than others. In words of two or more syllables, one syllable is almost invariably stressed more strongly than the other syllables. Words of one syllable may be either stressed or unstressed, depending on the context in which they are used, but connective one-syllable words like, and, but, or, to, etc., are generally unstressed. The words in a line of poetry are usually arranged so the accents occur at regular intervals, with the meter defined by the placement of the accents within the foot. Accent should not be construed as emphasis.

Sidelight: Two degrees of accent are natural to many multisyllabic English words, designated as primary and secondary.

Sidelight: When a syllable is accented, it tends to be raised in pitch and lengthened. Any or a combination of stress/pitch/length can be a metrical accent.

Sidelight: When the full accent falls on a vowel, as in PO-tion, that vowel is called a long vowel; when it falls on an articulation or consonant, as in POR-tion, the preceding vowel is a short vowel.

ALLITERATION

Also called head rhyme or initial rhyme, the repetition of the initial sounds (usually consonants) of stressed syllables in neighboring words or at short intervals within a line or passage, usually at word beginnings, as in "wild and woolly" or the line from the poem, Darkness Lost:

From somewhere far beyond, the flag of fate's caprice unfurled,

Sidelight: The sounds of alliteration produce a gratifying effect to the ear and can also serve as a subtle connection or emphasis of key words in the line, but should not "call attention" to themselves by strained usage.


ASSONANCE

The relatively close juxtaposition of the same or similar vowel sounds, but with different end consonants in a line or passage, thus a vowel rhyme, as in the words, date and fade.

CONSONANCE

A pleasing combination of sounds; sounds in agreement with tone. Also, the repetition of the same end consonants of words such as boat and night within or at the end of a line, or the words, cool and soul, as used by Emily Dickinson in the third stanza of He Fumbles at your Spirit.

CACOPHONY (cack-AH-fun-ee)

Discordant sounds in the jarring juxtaposition of harsh letters or syllables, sometimes inadvertent, but often deliberately used in poetry for effect, as in the opening line of Fences:

Crawling, sprawling, breaching spokes of stone,

Sidelight: Sound devices are important to poetic effects; to create sounds appropriate to the content, the poet may sometimes prefer to achieve a cacophonous effect instead of the more commonly sought-for euphony. The use of words with the consonants b, k and p, for example, produce harsher sounds than the soft f and v or the liquid l, m and n.

DISSONANCE

A mingling or union of harsh, inharmonious sounds that are grating to the ear.

EUPHONY (YOO-fuh-nee)

Harmony or beauty of sound that provides a pleasing effect to the ear, usually sought-for in poetry for effect. It is achieved not only by the selection of individual word-sounds, but also by their relationship in the repetition, proximity, and flow of sound patterns.

Sidelight: Vowel sounds are generally more pleasing to the ear than the consonants, so a line with a higher ratio of vowel sounds will produce a more agreeable effect; also, the long vowels in words like moon and fate are more melodious than the short vowels in cat and bed.

INTERNAL RHYME

Also called middle rhyme, a rhyme occurring within the line, as in the poem, The Matador:

His childhood fraught with lessons taught by want and misery


METER

A measure of rhythmic quantity, the organized succession of groups of syllables at basically regular intervals in a line of poetry, according to definite metrical patterns. In classic Greek and Latin versification, meter depended on the way long and short syllables were arranged to succeed one another, but in English the distinction is between accented and unaccented syllables. The unit of meter is the foot. Metrical lines are named for the constituent foot and for the number of feet in the line: monometer (1), dimeter (2), trimeter (3), tetrameter (4), pentameter (5), hexameter (6), heptameter (7) and octameter (8); thus, a line containing five iambic feet, for example, would be called iambic pentameter. Rarely does a metrical line exceed six feet.

Sidelight: In the composition of verse, poets sometimes make deviations from the systematic metrical patterns. This is often desirable because (1) variations will avoid the mechanical "te-dum, te-dum" monotony of a too-regular rhythm and (2) changes in the metrical pattern are an effective way to emphasize or reinforce meaning in the content. These variations are introduced by substituting different feet at places within a line. (Poets can also employ a caesura, use run-on lines and vary the degrees of accent by skillful word selection to modify the rhythmic pattern, a process called modulation. Accents heightened by semantic emphasis also provide diversity.) A proficient writer of poetry, therefore, is not a slave to the dictates of metrics, but neither should the poet stray so far from the meter as to lose the musical value or emotional potential of rhythmical repetition. Of course, in modern free verse, meter has become either irregular or non-existent.

MODULATION

In poetry, the harmonious use of language relative to the variations of stress and pitch.

Sidelight: Modulation is a process by which the stress values of accents can be increased or decreased within a fixed metrical pattern.

NEAR RHYME

Also called slant rhyme, off rhyme, imperfect rhyme or half rhyme, a rhyme in which the sounds are similar, but not exact, as in home and come or close and lose.

Sidelight: Due to changes in pronunciation, some near rhymes in modern English were perfect rhymes when they were originally written in old English.

ONOMATOPOEIA (ahn-uh-mah-tuh-PEE-uh)

Strictly speaking, the formation or use of words which imitate sounds, like whispering, clang and sizzle, but the term is generally expanded to refer to any word whose sound is suggestive of its meaning.

Sidelight: Because sound is an important part of poetry, the use of onomatopoeia is another subtle weapon in the poet's arsenal for the transfer of sense impressions through imagery.

Sidelight: Though impossible to prove, some philologists (linguistic scientists) believe that all language originated through the onomatopoeic formation of words.

PHONETIC SYMBOLISM

Sound suggestiveness; the association of particular word-sounds with common areas of meaning so that other words of similar sounds come to be associated with those meanings. It is also called sound symbolism.

Sidelight: An example of word sounds in English with a common area of meaning is a group beginning with gl, all having reference to light, which include:gleam, glare, glitter, glimmer, glint, glisten, glossy and glow.

RESONANCE

The quality of richness or variety of sounds in poetic texture, as in Milton's

. . . and the thunder . . . ceases now
To bellow through the vast and boundless Deep.

RHYME

In the specific sense, a type of echoing which utilizes a correspondence of sound in the final accented vowels and all that follows of two or more words, but the preceding consonant sounds must differ, as in the words, bear and care. In a poetic sense, however, rhyme refers to a close similarity of sound as well as an exact correspondence; it includes the agreement of vowel sounds in assonance and the repetition of consonant sounds in consonance and alliteration. Differences as well as identity in sound echoes between words contribute to the euphonic effect, stimulate intellectual appreciation, provide a powerful mnemonic device, and serve to unify a poem. Terms like near rhyme, half rhyme, and perfect rhyme function to distinguish between the types of rhyme without prejudicial intent and should not be interpreted as expressions of value. Usually, but not always, rhymes occur at the ends of lines.

Sidelight: Originally rime, the spelling was changed due to the influence of its popular, but erroneous, association with the Latin word, rhythmus. Many purists continue to use rime as the proper spelling of the word.

Sidelight: Early examples of English poetry used alliterative verse instead of rhyme. The use of rhyme in the end words of verse originally arose to compensate for the sometimes unsatisfactory quality of rhythm within the lines; variations in the patterns of rhyme schemes then became functional in defining diverse stanza forms, such as, ottava rima, rhyme royal, terza rima, the Spenserian stanza and others. Rhyme schemes are also significant factors in the definitions of whole poems, such as ballade, limerick, rondeau, sonnet, triolet and villanelle.


RHYTHM

An essential of all poetry, the regular or progressive pattern of recurrent accents in the flow of a poem as determined by the arses and theses of the metrical feet, i.e., the rise and fall of stress. The measure of rhythmic quantity is the meter.

Sidelight: A rhythmic pattern in which the stress falls on the final syllable of each foot, as in the iamb or anapest, is called a rising or ascending rhythm; a rhythmic pattern with the stress occurring on the first syllable of each foot, as in the dactyl or trochee, is a falling or descending rhythm.

Sidelight: From an easy lilt to the rough cadence of a primitive chant, rhythm is the organization of sound patterns the poet has created for pleasurable reading.