Consonance in poetry

What is Consonance?

Consonance is a poetic device rooted in phonetics. It revolves around the repetition of consonant sounds within a sequence of words. Unlike alliteration, which focuses on the recurrence of initial consonant sounds, consonance encompasses a broader scope. It can involve the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning, middle, or end of words, across various lines or within a single verse. The purpose of consonance is to create a pleasing and harmonious effect when recited aloud.

Read also: Internal rhyme in poetry

Types of Consonance in Poetry

Let’s explore the various types of consonance in poetry:

  1. Initial Consonance

As the name suggests, initial consonance focuses on the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. This type of consonance adds a rhythmic quality to the poem right from the outset, creating an engaging and memorable opening.

Example: “The slimy snake slithered silently.”

In this line, the repeated “s” sound at the beginning of each word accentuates the snake’s stealthy movement, providing a sense of auditory continuity.

  1. Middle Consonance

Middle consonance involves the recurrence of consonant sounds in the middle of words within a line. This type of consonance offers poets a versatile tool to control the flow of their verses and draw attention to specific parts of the poem.

Example: “In a cacophony of crashing waves.”

Here, the repetition of the “c” sound in “cacophony” and “crashing” reinforces the turbulent imagery of the ocean’s waves.

  1. End Consonance

End consonance, also known as terminal or final consonance, centers on repeating consonant sounds at the end of words. This type of consonance adds a sense of closure to lines and enhances the poem’s musicality.

Example: “Lost in the mist, amidst the whispers.”

The repeated “st” sound at the end of “lost” and “amidst” creates a soft and eerie atmosphere, complementing the imagery of the mist and whispers.

  1. Multi-Consonance

Multi-consonance combines two or more different consonant sounds within a line or stanza. This type of consonance allows poets to explore complex sound patterns, further enhancing the poetic experience.

Example: “Twilight, flutters, whispers of wonder.”

Here, the combination of “t,” “w,” and “s” sounds creates an enchanting and whimsical atmosphere, reflecting the poem’s theme of mystique.

  1. Internal Consonance

Internal consonance involves the repetition of consonant sounds within individual words. This type of consonance provides poets with a subtle yet effective way to add rhythm and musicality to their verses.

Example: “The sweet melody seeped deep.”

The internal repetition of the “e” and “p” sounds in “sweet,” “melody,” and “deep” establishes a melodious flow in this line.

Functions of Consonance in Poetry

Creating Musicality in Poetry

In poetry, rhythm and musicality are crucial to engaging the reader’s senses. Consonance contributes significantly to this aspect by imparting a euphonic quality to the verse. Poets carefully select specific consonant sounds to evoke the desired emotions and enhance the poem’s overall auditory appeal.

For instance, consider the line from Tennyson’s “The Lotus Eaters”:

“Music that gentlier on the spirit lies.”

The repetition of the “s” sound in “gentlier” and “lies” produces a soft, soothing effect, mirroring the calming influence of music described in the poem.

Emphasizing Words and Themes

Consonance plays an essential role in emphasizing certain words or themes within a poem. By repeating consonant sounds, the poet draws attention to the words in which they occur, making them stand out in the reader’s mind. This emphasis can heighten the emotional impact of specific lines or reinforce the underlying themes of the poem.

In Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” he writes:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.”

The repeated “d” sound in “woods,” “lovely,” and “dark” creates a sense of depth and mystery, emphasizing the allure of the natural setting.

Uniting Words and Lines

Consonance serves as a unifying element in poetry, creating a sense of coherence and continuity. When strategically used, this repetition of consonant sounds can link words or phrases within a single line or connect lines within a stanza. This continuity enhances the flow of the poem and helps the reader perceive it as a harmonious whole.

In William Wordsworth‘s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” he writes:

“Continuous as the stars that shine.”

The repetition of the “s” sound in “Continuous” and “stars” binds these words together, creating a seamless connection between the poem’s natural imagery and its sense of ongoing beauty.

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