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A Simple Guide to the Poetic Technique of Assonance

Author:

Centfie reads and analyzes poems from a psychological POV. See her poetry book on Amazon: "Piece of Mind: Everyone has an Untold Story."

step-by-step-guide-to-poetic-assonance

What is the Meaning of Assonance?

Have you ever noticed how beautiful poems have repetitive sounds? They can either be consonant or vowel sounds, repeated either in a few lines or throughout.

The word assonance is derived from the Latin word "Sonus" meaning "to correspond to in sound."

Assonance is one of the literary devices of repetition and sound. It refers to a stylistic device in literature whereby vowel sounds are repeated consecutively or close to each other in a word, line, or stanza.

Vowel sounds are made by the letters a, e, i, o, and u.

Assonance occurs when the vowels form syllables pronounced with an identical, or near-identical sound.

See the example of assonance below excerpted from the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. See the highlighted letters in bold typeface where assonance occurs.

"We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow," (line 7)

Note the repeated "i" sound in "we” and “lived.” Also, there is the "aw" sound of "dawn" and "saw" and the near-identical sound in "glow."

The phonetic symbol of "aw" is ɔ and of "ow" is o.

"Loved and were loved, and now we lie" (line 8)

Note the repeated "ah" sound in the words loved, and, were, loved, and, now, and lie.

Identifying Vowel Sounds

The main vowel sounds in English are represented as follows based on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA.)

You can confirm the phonetic sounds and stressed and unstressed syllables in the dictionary.

This is a representation of the basic vowel sounds to aid in identifying assonance in poetry.

Single Vowel Sounds (monophthongs)

One vowel sound in a word

aeiou

ʌ - “bun”

ɛ - "egg"

ɪ- “in”

ɑ - “not”

u- “use”

a - “jar”

e - “they”

i - “we”

ɒ - “hop”

ʊ - “book”

ə - ago

o - “blow”

æ - “rat”

ɔ - “dawn”

ɜ - “burn”

Double Vowel Sounds (diphthongs)

A combination of two vowel sounds in a word

aɪ- "find"

eɪ- "place"

ɪə- "clear"

ɔɪ- "boy"

aʊ- "house"

How to Use Assonance

For the best effect, the poet repeats the vowel sounds in stressed syllables in words that are next to each other. However, assonance may also occur in unstressed syllables.

Assonance focuses on the sounds, not the letters. Different vowels or vowel combinations may produce similar phonetic sounds.

Assonance can occur in all parts; at the beginning, middle, or end of words.

Assonance is a literary technique that adds texture to the poem in the same category as alliteration and consonance.

The Importance of Assonance

Some poets seem to use assonance intentionally, but sometimes the assonance appears accidental. Intended assonance is usually placed on stressed syllables of successive words.

  • Co-occurs with other literary devices

As with other literary devices, assonance also co-occurs with other techniques.
For instance, if you spot assonance in a poem, likely, there is also internal rhyme or euphony (a soothing effect with repetitive vowel sounds.)

  • Makes a poem interesting.

Assonance makes poetry pleasant to the ears when read aloud, both to the reader and the listener. It creates a dramatic effect when read aloud. Hence, poetry meant for performance is enhanced by assonance.

  • Makes a poem memorable.

Because of the repetitive vowel sounds, emphasis and harmony are created. As a result, it is easy for someone to remember the words of a poem that has assonance.

Assonance: a stylistic device in literature whereby vowel sounds are repeated consecutively or close to each other in a word or phrase.

Examples of Assonance in Poetry

The examples of assonance you will see here are sourced from a classical poem namely "The Raven;" written by Edgar Allan Poe.

step-by-step-guide-to-poetic-assonance

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, (line 1)
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore— (line 2)

In line 1 assonance occurs in the words:

once, upon, a, pondered

dreary, weak, weary

Listen to the repetitive diphthong in these words:

midnight, while, I

Notice the repetitive “a” and “i“ sounds throughout the line.

In line 2 a long vowel sound "o" repeats in the words:

over, forgotten, lore

Also, the vowel “a” in:

over, a, and, curious

Another example of assonance can be found in the second stanza of “The Raven”:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore

There are repetition of long “a” sounds in the entire stanza.

Some of the words with assonance include:

rare, and, radiant,

“e” sounds in:

maiden, the, angels, named, Lenore, nameless,

Furthermore, similar vowel sounds as in “Lenore” create assonance throughout the poem, including the words:

evermore, nevermore, adore, implore, nothing more

As you can see in the above example, assonance contributes to creating rhyme. The difference between the rhyme and assonance is that assonance is focused on the vowel sound, while rhyme is the syllables including sounds made by consonants.

Read the complete poem; "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, and see how pleasant the assonance is Throughout the poem.

Take a look at your poems or a favorite poem or song and identify instances of assonance. Do you think the assonance was intentional? Does assonance add value to the poem?

References

Baldick, Chris. "The Oxford dictionary of literary terms: Oxford paperback reference." (2008).

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.

© 2021 Centfie

Comments

Centfie (author) from Kenya on April 30, 2021:

I am happy you found this article informative. Thank you for your comment.

Lorna Lamon on April 25, 2021:

Thank you for sharing such an informative article. I hadn't really given this much thought before as I usually read my poems out loud to see how they resonate. However, I will pay more attention in future.

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