Sound Effects in Poetry

Poets will often use sound as a way to add certain effects to their writing. This can be done in several ways. It can be done with rhyme, onomatopoeia, alliteration, and assonance. Rhyme is one of the cornerstones to most poetry. There are several different types of rhyme. An End Rhyme is a rhyme in which the ending words of two sentences sound the same. This is also known as a perfect rhyme. A Half Rhyme is when the the two words sound similar, but not quite the same. There are other differences in rhyme as well. A rhyme is considered masculine if the rhyme is on the stressed syllable and feminine if on the unstressed. In addition to sound rhyming, there is also the Eye Rhyme, in which two words have the similar spelling, but do not have similar pronunciation. Onomatopoeia refers to the use of letters and phonetics to represent the sounds of things we hear in life. The sound a telegraph emits could be classified as a beep, since the letters B-E-E-P, when spoken, sound similar to the telegraph noise. Alliteration is the use of the same beginning sound in a string of three or more words. Assonance is similar to alliteration, except it refers to the middle sound instead of the beginning sound.


Effects of Sound on Poetry
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Effect of Sound on Poetry

When poets are writing, they take advantage of a word’s sound, as well as its meaning. A poet chooses their words carefully, because they want the reader or listener to get a certain feeling and understanding from their poetry. Poetry is meant to be read out loud, so an author wants you to hear a certain sound as you’re listening. There are three main techniques that take advantage of a word’s sound in poetry.


One is onomatopoeia, which is a word that imitates a sound. Examples of onomatopoeia are: beep, zip, squawk, boom, splat, and I could go on and on. These are all examples of words that kind of sound like the sound that they’re describing. There’s not really another way to describe a “beep” sound other than a beep. It is the same with some of these other words. Whenever you read these words or you hear these words in a poem, they’re going to give you a certain sound that comes to mind, because they kind of make that sound as you read them. This is an important sound technique that an author can use when writing a poem.


Another example is alliteration, which is the repetition of beginnings sounds. I underlined beginning, because it’s a key difference between these two (alliteration and assonance). Alliteration is the repetition of beginning sounds. Some examples might be: Boys being boisterous You hear that “b” sound repeated over and over, and it adds to the flow of that poem or that sentence. That’s what alliteration is. Another example could be: Picking purple plums. You hear that same repeated beginning sound. They usually want you to have at least three words that begin with the same sound before they call it alliteration. In these examples, we did have three. If you would have said “picking plums”, you would still hear the alliteration, but before they call it alliteration as a poetic technique or literary technique, they want you to have three words altogether. You could have even more. You could say “picking purple and pink plums” or “pleasantly picking purple and pink plums”. You could have as many words in a row that made sense that use the same beginning sound and have alliteration, but they do want you to have at least three words that begin with the same sound before you call it an alliteration.


Now, the next one we’re going to talk about is assonance, which is the repetition of middle sounds. We’re going to underline middle to remind ourselves that assonance has to do with middle sounds where alliteration has to do with beginning sounds. You want to have three words with that same middle sound before you call it assonance the same way that you had three words that begin with the same sound for alliteration. Assonance is middle sound repetition. I’m going to give you an example with several words in a row. “Top dogs, stop hogging the ball.” You’ve got “top”, “dogs”, “stop”, “hogging” and “ball”. You hear “ah ah ah”. You do have O’s, but you also have an A that makes the “ah” sound. You’ll notice that it isn’t rhyming. It’s similar to rhyming, because you hear that same middle sound, but that sound is the same, which is what makes it not a rhyme. You want to remember this is not rhyming. “Top dog” doesn’t rhyme. “Dogs stop” doesn’t it rhyme. You could say “top” and “stop” do rhyme. but it’s not a whole line of words that are rhyming. It just happens to have the same sound. With “ball” and “hog”, you don’t have the same ending sound here. While some of the ending sounds do repeat, it’s not a whole line of rhyme. It is simply the middle sound that’s repeating. I’m going to go ahead and fix this over here for clarification, because it’s not the three words that begin with the same sound on assonance. It is three words that have the same middle sound. We’ll want to say at least three.


Onomatopoeia, alliteration, and assonance are three primary techniques that poets will use to take advantage of the sound of words. They help the reader or listener to get a better feeling from the poem, because onomatopoeia lets a reader actually hear what is happening where alliteration and assonance both emphasize certain words, so a reader will pay more attention to them. All of these techniques have a purpose in the writing. Whenever you’re reading a poem, or any writing for that matter, pay attention to the effect the sound is having on the reading and on the overall impression that you get from that work.



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Last updated: 04/18/2018

 

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