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The Definition of Sound Device in Literature


Literary writers -- especially poets -- use sound devices, such as rhyme and rhythm, to reinforce the meaning of poetry. Sound devices help readers develop strong visual images, reinforcing the mood and tone of the literary piece. The goal is to use sound devices to evoke an emotional response in readers. Poets typically stress specific syllables, known as accents, to emphasize particular sounds and create a powerful rhythm.

Head Rhyme: Alliteration

Alliteration, also known as the head rhyme, is a sound device that focuses on the repetition of initial sounds in accented syllables -- typically consonants -- to help words flow together smoothly. Alliteration is what makes a line in a poem feel like it rolls right off your tongue. The fluid transition between words creates harmony and unity. For example, in "The Raven," Edgar Allan Poe writes, "Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary." "Weak and weary" is an example of alliteration.

Onomatopoeia and Imitation

Onomatopoeia is when a writer uses words to imitate or mimic specific sounds. The utterance of the spoken word resembles the actual sound. This sound device helps a poet naturally incorporate sound into his writing. For example, Alfred Noyes writes, "Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear," in his poem "The Highwayman." "Tlot-tlot" is an example of onomatopoeia because the words mimic the sound of a horse's hoofs on cobblestone.

Assonance and Consonance

Poets use assonance and consonance to draw attention to sound. Assonance and consonance create harmonious sounds pleasing to the ear. Assonance is the use of similar vowel sounds with different consonant sounds in a line or a stanza of a poem, such as the short "e" sound in "harness" and "bells" in Robert Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Consonance is the repetitive use of similar consonant sounds at the end of a word, such as "cool" and "soul" in Emily Dickinson's poem, "He Fumbles at Your Spirit."

Rhyming Words

Poets often use rhyming to group words and phrases into lines and stanzas that transition smoothly from one to the next. Masculine rhyme is when a line or a stanza has a single stressed rhyming syllable, such as "play" and "day" and "mat" and "hat" in "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss. Feminine rhyme occurs when a stressed rhyming syllable is followed by an unstressed rhyming syllable, such as "sunny" and "funny" in the same book.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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