10 Sound Devices in Poetry With Examples

Updated on April 14, 2020
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I read and analyze poems from a psychological POV. Check out my poetry book on Amazon Store: "Piece of Mind: Everyone has an Untold Story."

What Are Sound Devices?

Sound devices are literary techniques that entail the way words sound in a poem. They are also known as musical devices. The choice of words in a poem can have different or similar sounds, regular or irregular syllables, repetition of similar sounds, and playful usage of words.

Poets use sound devices to appeal to the sense of hearing. Literary devices of sound in poetry occur either naturally or intentionally in a poem.

Poetic sound devices exemplify the difference between prose and poetic language. They enhance the meaning of a poem and make it easy to memorize. Also, they are fun, pleasant to the ear, and enrich the rhythm and musicality of the poem.

1. Rhyme

Rhyme is the repetition of words with the same sound in a poem. The pattern of similarly pronounced words in a poem is thus known as a rhyme scheme.

The popular position of rhyming words is often at the end of lines, whereby the last word of a line rhymes with the last word of another line in the poem.

Internal rhyme occurs when the rhyming words appear in the middle of a line.

When used cleverly rhymes are enjoyable especially when the poem is presented aloud. However, sometimes poets seem to force rhymes and can make a poem monotonous.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night."

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Internal rhyme occurs when the rhyming words appear in the middle of a line.

2. Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is a sound device that represents the exact sound of something in the poem. The poet forms a word to imitate the sound made by the object in the poem.

It's a form of sound symbolism, whereby the letters represent a sound and might not be a recognizable word in the dictionary.

Some forms of onomatopoeia are obvious and universally understood, for example;

  • splish splash
  • ding dong
  • tick tock
  • achoo
  • shh

Also, some words which denote the sound made can be used as onomatopoeia in poetry such as bark, hiss, clattering, sizzling, clapping among others.

Nevertheless, onomatopoeic sounds may differ from one culture to another, even when the poem is in the same language.

In some cultures, the sound cows make is represented by moo. In my culture, mbooo (read with oh) is the known sound a cow makes.

The strength of onomatopoeia is the poet has the freedom to represent the sound in any way. There's no right or wrong unless a poet misrepresents or exaggerates sound for a dramatic effect.

Onomatopoeia is common in children's songs and poems.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Spike Milligan's "On the Ning Nang Nong."

On the Ning Nang Nong

Where the cows go Bong!

and the monkeys all say BOO!

There's a Nong Nang Ning

Where the trees go Ping!

And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.

3. Meter

Meter is an indicator of patterns of sound in a poem. The meter relies on the poet's word choice and the characteristics of syllables in those words.

The syllable count can determine the type of meter.

Also, in classical forms of poetry, it's important to note the number of stressed and unstressed syllables and their position.

Poems stand out because of the poet's brilliant use of the meter.

However, the free verse can stand out because of its lack of a regular meter.

Metrical measures contribute greatly to the rhythm or the "beats" in a poem.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night." Each of these lines has 10 syllables that follow one another in a regular pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. This type of meter is known as iambic pentameter. Note that in the excerpt below, I have highlighted the stressed syllables in bold letters.

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

4. Euphony

Euphony in poetry entails the use of harmonious sounds in a poem. This sound device has an effect on pleasant musicality and can make the lines involved easy to remember.

To identify euphony, the words sound sweet hence evoking pleasant emotions, and may have been used ironically.

It's the use of smooth instead of harsh sounds or words (cacophony.)

Example:

The following is an excerpt from William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

Note how the poet uses smooth words which mostly comprise smooth consonants like l and n, nasal consonants like h, and a lot of vowel sounds. It gives these lines a harmonious and pleasant musicality when said aloud.

5. Elision

Elision is a poetical device that involves the omission of a syllable or a sound where it is actually in order to have those sounds there. A poet may the first, internal or last syllable of a word.

In classical or traditional forms of poetry, the syllable affected by elision is replaced by an apostrophe.

Sometimes the discernible omission of words (such as conjunctions) from a line.

Elision is like a contraction of words as used in everyday-language such as "I'm" instead of "I am."

But elision is not merely cutting off. Some elisions involve merging vowel sounds.

Poets use this device to maintain a regular meter and rhythm.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud."

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

Instead of "over" which has two syllables, the poet merged the vowel sounds to form a syllable by using "o'er."

6. Dissonance

When the rhythm of sound in a poem is inharmonious it creates dissonance. A poem is inharmonious when it's hard to read and doesn't flow smoothly.

Dissonance is related to cacophony. However, the sound device of dissonance is a wider term that includes disagreeing and the absence of harmony.

It is the deliberate use of sounds which are discordant or inharmonious with the surrounding.

Dissonance does not occur only when negative emotions or tones like rage and tension are expressed. It can be musical and express joy even though the sounds used are not in harmony.

Dissonance as a poetic device can go beyond sound, whereby the attitude, theme, or imagery of the poem is inharmonious.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night." Although the rhythm of this poem is harmonious due to the regular meter and assonance, the choice of words clashes as in "walked out" "out walked."

Also, note how line 2 uses assonance harmoniously but in the next line, the vowel sounds are different and instead comprises more consonant sounds.

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain. [line 2]
I have out walked the furthest city light. [line 3]

7. Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds close to each other within a line in a poem.

The sounds are repetitive whether in the middle or at the end of words, not to be confused with alliteration.

Words in poetry which at first glance may appear to rhyme but do not, usually apply consonance like above/approve and amber/chamber.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night." There is repetitive use of consonant sound r, n, and th.

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Pro Tip

Words in poetry which at first glance may appear to rhyme but do not, usually apply consonance.

8. Cacophony

Cacophony is a sound device that uses harsh sounds that evoke unpleasant feelings such as annoyance and rage. It may occur unintentionally in poetry dealing with tough topics with a harsh tone.

This sound device can make a poem easy to remember because the harsh sounds make the poem forceful. Cacophony is often used in dramatic poetry for emphasis.

It's the use of harsh instead of smooth sounds or words as in euphony. It is closely related to dissonance.

Consonant sounds like k, c, g, b, t create cacophony when they occur closely and used to present negative situations.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night." Note how the lines contain a mixture of several harsh consonant sounds including b, c, k,t, and g.

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,

What do you think is the difference between cacophony and dissonance?

9. Assonance

Assonance refers to the repetition of vowel sounds within a line in poetry which is easy to discern.

The sounds are repetitive whether at the beginning of words, in the middle or at the end, not to be confused with rhyme.

Often. assonance appears when there are stressed syllables following each other.

This sound device places emphasis on the words and enhances memorization.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night." Check the repeated use of vowel sounds o and a.

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

10. Alliteration

Alliteration is a sound device involving consonant sounds not to be confused with consonance.

In alliteration, the repeated consonant sounds appear at the initial letter of words and are discernible.

Alliteration often occurs unintentionally but can be used intentionally for emphasis and sound effects.

Consonant clusters such as "ch" and "th" sounds are also accepted as alliteration.

Example:

The following is an excerpt from Robert Frost's "Acquainted with the Night."

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet


References

Greene, R., Cushman, S., Cavanagh, C., Ramazani, J., Rouzer, P., Feinsod, H., ... & Slessarev, A. (Eds.). (2012). The Princeton encyclopedia of poetry and poetics. Princeton University Press.

Strachan, J., & Terry, R. (2001). Poetry: an introduction. NYU Press.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Centfie

Comments

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    • centfie profile imageAUTHOR

      Centfie 

      4 months ago from Kenya

      Brenda Arledge thank you for your insightful comment. Sorry it wasn't what you expected...

      I barely put emphasis on them either when writing...often they just happen. The beauty of poetry.

    • Brenda Arledge profile image

      BRENDA ARLEDGE 

      4 months ago from Washington Court House

      This wasn't what I was expecting from the title.

      I thought it was about audio devices to record poetry.

      But I wasnt disappointed.

      You did a great article.

      But I must say when I write, I really dont put emphasis on these.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Majestic Tells profile image

      Laurinzoscott 

      4 months ago from Kanab, Utah

      I very much did...thank YOU

    • centfie profile imageAUTHOR

      Centfie 

      4 months ago from Kenya

      Thanks @Laurinzoscott. I'm glad you enjoyed!

    • Majestic Tells profile image

      Laurinzoscott 

      4 months ago from Kanab, Utah

      Wow you gave a course of poetry that would fill a semester...thus article is sooo awesome im gonna use in future as a reference guide...Nice!!!!

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