Every word in a poem is carefully chosen because of its meaning or sound. Through the use of musical devices, a poet can add meaning and emotion to a word, a phrase or the entire poem. Like the original rhythm of a heartbeat, people find rhythms to be soothing. A different rhythm may stir a sense of anticipation in a movie sound track. Rhyme, repetition and rhythm also give structure to a poem. Following patterns in the sound or beat in music and poetry intrigues the human imagination, which is designed to organize information, find patterns and anticipate what is coming next.
Poets give structure and a musical quality to their poetry using repetition of individual sounds, syllables, words, lines or groups of lines. As in music, when listening to a poem we tend to look for patterns in the sounds. Finding the patterns, whether they be rhythmic, rhyme or repetition, is pleasing to the ear to hear the patterns emerge and anticipate what sounds will follow. Words in which the repetition occurs are given emphasis, emotion and meaning. Alliteration is the repetition of a beginning sound in words that are close to each other in a line. In “Romeo and Juliet,” William Shakespeare utilizes the repetition of the beginning sound "f" and "l": "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life." Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds within a sentence or phrase. Dylan Thomas repeats the long "a" sound in “Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night": “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage, against the dying of the light." In "The Eagle," Lord Alfred Tennyson utilizes consonance with the repetition of the hard "k" consonant sound: “He clasps the crag with crooked hands.”
Time to Rhyme
The most easily recognized rhyme occurs between syllables at the end of a verse line. An example of an end rhyme is used alternating lines in “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost: “The way a crow / Shook down on me / The dust of snow / From a hemlock tree.” This poem also illustrates a rhyme pattern, which is created when a rhymes occur in a pattern, in this case, ABAB. Assonance and consonance create internal rhyme, when a repeated sound appears within a line or phrase. In the famous poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge utilized internal rhyme: “We were the first that ever burst.”
Rhythm and Meter
Rhythm gives poetry structure and enhances the meaning and intensity within the poem. By utilizing patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, a poet sets the rhythm to a poem. Meter refers to the pattern of the rhythm of lines within a poem. An example of meter is iambic -- one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable. Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter -- lines of poetry containing five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables. In "Romeo and Juliet," Romeo speaks in iambic pentameter: "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?"
Snap, Crackle and Pop
One of the most interesting poetic devices is the onomatopoeia, which is the use of words that imitate the actual sound being described. Splat, buzz and pop all sound like their meaning. In Tennyson’s “Come Down, O Maid,” the reader is drawn into the scene of the poem by the use of onomatopoeia: “The moan of doves in immemorial elms / And murmuring of innumerable bees.”