Assonance in poetry

What is Assonance?

Assonance is a literary device where the repetition of vowel sounds occurs in nearby or adjacent words. Unlike rhyme, which involves the repetition of both consonant and vowel sounds, assonance focuses solely on the vowel sounds. This repetition can be in stressed or unstressed syllables and can occur within a single line or spread throughout a poem. The strategic use of assonance allows poets to create a harmonious and melodious quality, enhancing the overall aesthetic and emotional impact of their verses.

Read also: Alliteration in poetry

Examples of Assonance in Poetry:

Example 1: William Wordsworth – “The Solitary Reaper”

“Will no one tell me what she sings?— Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow For old, unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago.”

In this stanza from Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper,” the poet employs the “o” sound in “no,” “old,” “for,” “old,” “long,” and “ago.” The repetition of this vowel sound creates a melancholic and nostalgic atmosphere, enhancing the sense of longing and the imagery of distant battles and forgotten sorrows.

Example 2: Edgar Allan Poe – “The Bells”

“Keeping time, time, time, In a sort of Runic rhyme, To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells—”

In Poe’s haunting poem “The Bells,” the repeated “i” and “e” sounds in “time,” “rhyme,” “wells,” and “bells” contribute to the musical quality of the verses. The use of assonance in this poem mimics the ringing of bells, immersing the reader in a mesmerizing auditory experience.

Example 3: Langston Hughes – “Dreams”

“Hold fast to dreams For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird That cannot fly.”

Langston Hughes employs assonance in the lines “dreams” and “wings,” repeating the long “e” sound. This choice of assonance adds a sense of hope and optimism, emphasizing the importance of dreams in a person’s life.

Example 4: Robert Frost – “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

“He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake.”

In this excerpt from Frost’s iconic poem, the “a” sound in “shakes” and “ask” creates a gentle, soothing rhythm, akin to the soft jingling of harness bells. This assonance complements the tranquil imagery of a snowy evening in the woods.

Example 5: Emily Dickinson – “Hope is the thing with feathers”

“And sweetest in the gale is heard And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.”

In this poem by Emily Dickinson, the poet uses assonance with the long “e” sound in “sweetest,” “be,” “thee,” and “be.” This choice of assonance enhances the delicate and gentle nature of hope, likening it to a resilient bird that endures even in the fiercest storms.

Example 6: William Shakespeare – Sonnet 73

“That time of year thou mayst in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”

In this Shakespearean sonnet, the poet utilizes assonance with the long “o” sound in “do,” “those,” “boughs,” “choirs,” and “sweet.” The assonance reinforces the imagery of autumn, conveying a sense of melancholy and the passage of time.

The Subtle Allure of Assonance

Assonance is often referred to as the “subtle” or “internal” rhyme because it is more inconspicuous than traditional end rhyme. While rhymes tend to be immediately noticeable due to their placement at the end of lines, assonance seeps into the fabric of the poem, leaving readers with a sense of cohesion and unity within the verses. It is this subtlety that makes assonance a powerful tool for poets to convey complex emotions and ideas without overwhelming the reader with obvious rhymes.

Creating Musicality and Rhythm

One of the primary functions of assonance in poetry is to create musicality and rhythm. By repeating vowel sounds, poets establish a harmonious cadence that pleases the ear and establishes a flow within the poem. This musical quality engages the reader, drawing them deeper into the verses as if listening to a captivating song.

Consider the following lines from T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece, “The Waste Land”:

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

The repetition of the “o” sound in “show,” “you,” “in,” and “of” creates a soft and melancholic melody. This musical flow enhances the somber tone of the poem, evoking a feeling of desolation and despair in the reader.

Emphasizing Themes and Emotions

Assonance also serves as a powerful tool for emphasizing themes and emotions in poetry. By repeating certain vowel sounds, poets can imbue specific words with heightened significance, drawing the reader’s attention to essential elements of the poem. This subtle emphasis contributes to the overall emotional impact of the verses.

Consider the following lines from Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting poem, “Annabel Lee”:

“And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side Of my darling, my darling, my life, and my bride.”

The repetition of the long “i” sound in “lie,” “side,” “my,” “life,” and “bride” conveys a sense of deep love and longing. The emotional weight of the poem is heightened by the assonance, making it resonate more profoundly with the reader.

Enhancing Imagery and Atmosphere

Furthermore, assonance can enhance the imagery and atmosphere of a poem, painting vivid pictures with words. When specific vowel sounds are repeated, they can mimic natural sounds or evoke specific sensations, making the poem come alive in the reader’s mind.

Consider these lines from William Wordsworth’s classic poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”:

“Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”

The repetition of the short “e” sound in “beside,” “beneath,” and “trees,” combined with the soft “i” sound in “beside” and “in,” creates a gentle and airy atmosphere that mirrors the light and delicate movement of the daffodils the poet describes.

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