Alliteration examples in poetry

Definition of alliteration

Alliteration is a literary device in which a series of words in a sentence or line of poetry have the same initial consonant sound. It involves the repetition of the initial consonant sound, rather than the repetition of specific letters. The repeated consonant sound can occur in stressed or unstressed syllables and can be found in closely connected words or words in proximity to one another.

Read also: Poetry techniques

Examples of Alliteration in Poetry:

  1. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”: “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.”

In this iconic line, the repeated “m” sound in “midnight,” “dreary,” “pondered,” and “weak” contributes to the haunting and melancholic mood of the poem.

  1. William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”: “Ten thousand saw I at a glance.”

The repetition of the “s” sound in “saw,” “I,” and “glance” gives the line a soft and soothing quality, reflecting the gentle beauty of the poet’s surroundings.

  1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”: “The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew.”

Coleridge employs alliteration with the “f” sound to depict the motion of the wind and the sea, immersing the reader in the maritime atmosphere of the poem.

  1. Langston Hughes’ “Harlem”: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

Hughes uses alliteration in “dream deferred” to emphasize the central theme of the poem, drawing attention to the consequences of unfulfilled aspirations.

  1. Emily Dickinson’s “A narrow fellow in the grass”: “A narrow fellow in the grass / Occasionally rides.”

The repeated “r” sound in “narrow fellow,” “grass,” and “rides” adds an eerie and mysterious undertone to the poem’s description of a snake.

  1. William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: “And thorough this distemperature we see / The seasons alter.”

Shakespeare employs alliteration with the “s” sound to convey a sense of disorder and change in the natural world.

Types of alliteration

In poetry, alliteration can manifest in various forms, depending on how and where the repeated consonant sounds are used within the lines or stanzas. Here are some common types of alliteration found in poetry:

  1. Initial Alliteration: This is the most common type of alliteration, where the repetition of the initial consonant sound occurs at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words within a line or stanza. For example:
    • “Sally sells seashells by the seashore.” (repetition of the “s” sound)
  2. Medial Alliteration: In this type, the repeated consonant sound appears in the middle of words within the same line or stanza. Medial alliteration is less frequent than initial alliteration, but it can still contribute to the poem’s musicality. For example:
    • “mIddle of the fAll.”
  3. Alliterative Verse: Some poems are structured using alliterative verse, a form common in Old English and Middle English poetry. In this type, every stressed syllable in a line begins with the same consonant sound, creating a powerful and rhythmic effect. For example, the opening lines of “Beowulf” display alliterative verse:
    • “Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,” (translated as “Lo! We, the Spear-Danes, in days of yore.”)
  4. Head Rhyme: Head rhyme, also known as initial rhyme, is a specialized form of alliteration where the stressed syllables of two or more words begin with the same consonant sound, even if the succeeding sounds are different. This technique is often used in song lyrics and nursery rhymes. For example:
    • “Wet pet,” “green grass.”
  5. Alliterative Refrain: In some poems, a refrain—a repeated phrase or line—is used with alliteration, emphasizing a specific message or theme throughout the poem. The refrain often appears at the end of stanzas or at regular intervals. For example:
    • “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.'”

Benefits of Alliteration:

  1. Musicality: Alliteration lends a musical quality to poetry, enhancing its auditory appeal. The repeated consonant sounds create rhythm and harmony, akin to the notes of a symphony, evoking emotional responses from readers.
  2. Emphasis: By accentuating certain words or phrases through alliteration, poets can draw attention to key themes or concepts, reinforcing their importance in the poem’s message.
  3. Memorability: The sonorous quality of alliteration makes verses more memorable. This device allows lines to be etched in the reader’s mind, making the poem stand out long after it has been read or heard.
  4. Aesthetic Pleasure: The skilled use of alliteration can create a delightful aesthetic experience, where the sound of the words becomes as important as their meaning.

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