Sound Patterns

Sound can and should enhance meaning in poetry; looking at sound groups reveals that sounds are often —though not necessarily— related to meaning.

pattern: repetition and variation of a motif; repeated sounds must be near enough to each other for the echo to be heard.

sibilants: s sounds (s, c, z, sh)

onomatopoeia: using a word that imitates the sound of what it represents; a word whose sound resembles the sound it denotes.

ooze of oil, clip-clop, crash, whiz, mumble

Dickinson: a fly’s “uncertain stumbling Buzz”

euphony: pleasing, harmonious sounds; but not always matched to meaning, for example with syphilis

cacophony: discordant, harsh sounds

Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw. (Milton)

alliteration: repetition of an initial consonant or consonant cluster sound

Billy Blather baked a brick

all of Beowulf Beowulf | Poetry.

assonance: repetition of identical vowel sounds

round vowel sounds

        open window

near assonance: long vowel sounds (oo, ee); short, staccato vowel sounds

open wide the golden gates

consonance: same consonant sounds but different vowel sounds in the middle or end of words; harmonious

apples roll down the hill

thirst, ghost, rest

        live, move, save

        gobbets of blubber

alliteration plus consonance:

chitter chatter

flit, float

near consonance: hard consonant sounds (struck, gut, clock, plucked, crypt); soft consonant sounds (m,n, j); sibilants (s sounds).

dissonance: discordant; not harmonious.

rhyme: two or more words or phrases whose endings match in vowel and consonant sounds (usually accented); repetition of the end sounds of two or more words.

  • spelling is irrelevant: all about sound

hay, sleigh

schooner, tuner

  • dull and clunking when predictable:

deep, sleep

moon, June

sun, fun

        when the cooling breeze/whispers through the __________

        though my love is true/you make me feel __________

  • over-used antithetical pairings:



perfect (full, true) rhyme: sound repetition is exact.

slant (near, partial, half, off, oblique) rhyme: final consonant sound is the same but the vowel sound is different; can work especially well to express disappointment or negation

He who the ox to wrath has moved

Shall never be by woman loved.

vowel rhyme: (see assonance) only the vowel sounds are in common, not the consonant sounds.

       green, leaves

bough, towns

starry, barley (also an excellent slant rhyme)

eye rhyme: spellings make words look alike though they don’t sound alike and therefore don’t rhyme at all

rough, dough, bough, through

        idea, flea

end rhyme: rhyme at the ends of lines

internal rhyme: rhyme within lines

masculine rhyme: one-syllable end rhyme (one-syllable words or final stressed syllable of a longer word)

feminine rhyme: a rhyme of two or more syllables with the stress not on the last syllable.

         and of course we’re not married, we are a pair of scissors

          who come together to cut, without towels saying His. Hers.    (Anne Sexton)

rhyme scheme: the pattern of a poem’s rhymes, which are identified by letters. The same sounds have the same letters, so the pattern would then be expressed in a series of letters. One stanza might have an abab rhyme scheme, while the next might rhyme bcbc.