What is Alliteration in Poetry? Definition, Tips, and Examples

This is a guide covering about alliteration. We will discuss the following:

Poets employ poetic devices to enrich their style and the way they convey certain ideas. One of those poetic devices, mostly commonly used, is alliteration. Why and how do poets use alliteration?

Defined simply, alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning of words strung together in a sentence. As a stylistic choice, alliteration is used to grab a reader’s attention and make the verse memorable.

In this article, we will delve into the definition, distinction, and significance of using alliteration in poetry.

What is Alliteration in Poetry (Definition)?

Alliteration is commonly defined as the repetition of consonant sounds at the start of words in a sequence or a line. This puts stress sounds at the beginning of words in a line so that it lends more rhythm and structure to the verses.

According to the masterclass.com article, alliteration is the repetition of the same letter sound

across the start of several words in a line of text.

Now it must be kept in mind that alliteration doesn’t refer to merely to the repetition of the same letter (although that is most commonly the case), but it refers more accurately to the sound at the beginning of each word. As an example, consider the following sentence:

Example: Keep the closet clean, Kyle.

Despite the occurrence of the letter ‘C’ twice in the middle, the sound of the sentence remained the same.

Consider Emily Dickinson’s Much Madness is Divinest Sense:

Much Madness is divinest Sense – To a discerning Eye –

Much Sense — the starkest Madness – ’Tis the Majority

In this excerpt, Emily Dickinson has used the sound of letter ‘m’ in the beginning of the words in repetition.

How Do You Identify Alliteration in Poetry?

So how do we identify alliteration in poetry? Well, you have to look for repetitive sounds that begin each word in a line. If a line has a succession or repeated use of the same sound in the beginning of two or more words then it is in alliteration.

For example, ‘twisting tornado’ is an obvious alliteration, and while the pair of words ‘knowledgeable gnome’ may start with different letters, but they are also an example of alliteration because both words start with the same consonant sound ‘n’.

Let’s look at an excerpt from an actual poem:

When I see birches bend to left and right Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay

The use of the consonant sound of the letter ‘b’ repeats several times in the stanza taken from

Robert Frost’s Birches.

Why is Alliteration in Poetry Important?

Alliteration serves a couple of extremely indispensable purposes in poetry. That’s why alliteration is one of the most commonly used poetic devices out there.

First of all, alliteration gives a nice ring and rhyme to the lines of a poem.

Behemoth biggest born of earth upheaved (John Milton — A Paradise Lost)

In the line above, the monstrosity is magnified by the use of words starting in the letter ‘b’ like ‘behemoth’ ‘biggest’ and ‘born’.

Alliteration is also employed in poetic lines to make them more memorable. Poets will cleverly alliterate words or phrases that they want the reader’s to pay attention to and which the poets want the reader to remember.

Consider this second stanza from the poem Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.

In the lines above, we can see the use of the letters and sounds of ‘f’ and ‘s’ in the second and third line, respectively, being used as alliterations.

How to Use Alliteration in Poetry?

Alliteration serves to lend mood and rhyme to the verses of a poem. The repetition of words or a sound in a sequence sounds melodic to the ear. Since alliterative sentences word pairs are no accidents, they are carefully crafted to so that a desired sound effect is achieved.

Alliteration in poetry not only sounds pleasing to our ears, but it serves to convey a certain mood. If a poem uses ‘s’ in an alliteration, which is a soft whispering sound, it usually has different connotation than when the letter ‘c’ is used, which has a harsher connotation.

That’s why a thesaurus can help you with choosing the right kind of words for your poem so that you can convey the thought in an audibly pleasing manner.

What are Examples of Alliteration in Poetry?

The following three excerpts are examples of alliteration in poetry:

Example 1: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.

Example 2: Emily Dickinson’s ‘I heard a fly buzz when I died’

I heard a fly buzz when I died;

The stillness round my form Was like the stillness in the air Between the heaves of storm

Example 3: Robert Frost’s ‘Nothing Gold can Stay’

Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.

Final Remarks

Alliteration is an extremely useful poetic device that can transform lines into memorable verses. It lends structure, rhyme, and mood to the poetry. Although it should be used moderately along with the other poetic devices, alliteration has an unmatched quality to transform forgettable lines into ones that refuse to leave your memory.

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