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9&60 Ways - Alliteration/Consonance

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Old 12-31-2008, 09:28 PM
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Default 9&60 Ways - Alliteration/Consonance


Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers... What do tongue-twisters have to do with poetry? They use one of the same tools: alliteration! Alliteration is when the beginning consonant sounds of words are repeated. Consonance is when consonant sounds inside the words are repeated. This distinction is minor in actual practice, so I'll use "alliteration" as a blanket term.

There are lots of good reasons to use alliteration. Sometimes it can mimic the natural sounds around us, creating the illusion that the words are what they describe, evoking emotional responses. (This mimicry is called onomatopoeia.) A famous example, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Come Down, O Maid" uses "m" sounds to imitate doves and bees: "The moan of doves in immemorial elms, / And murmuring of innumerable bees" are found in a place where "every sound is sweet". Edgar Allan Poe used this tool a lot. As the editors of The American Review noted in 1845, "much of the melody of 'The Raven' arises from alliteration". Consider how the "s" sounds whisper to you with "the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain".

Other times, alliteration creates a link between two or more words, which makes us consider the words together. In Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, the Empress' two sons argue about who shall seduce the lovely Lavinia. Aaron tells them to team up instead: "For shame, be friends, and join for that you jar" (Act II, Scene I). The "j" sounds link "join" and "jar", just as Aaron wants to link the princes.

This month, try to alliterate. Just beware not to use too much alliteration for no good reason; you may end up with a tongue-twister! Questions and comments about this lesson go in this thread. Your work can be posted as a separate thread with "Alliteration " in the title. Example: "Alliteration - The Stern and Steely Soldier".

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