What is alliteration?
Alliteration is the repetition of the same beginning consonant sound in two or more words in succession. For example: "cold, covered, clarified." The repetition of consonant sounds can help add rhythm and musicality to the poet's words.
Alliteration is not necessarily the repetition of the same first consonant letter in a string of words. For example, "Female pheasant" is an example of alliteration, but "childish cry" is not.
Why do poets use alliteration?
The medium of poetry is language, especially spoken language. Alliteration helps to emphasize that the sounds of words are as important as their meaning.
Most of us have a natural liking for rhythmic repetition in poetry. This is why alliteration, rhyme, meter and other poetic techniques have been used for so long in traditional poetry.
What is the effect of alliteration in poetry?
When a poet uses alliteration, it can mean that they want you to hear the actual sounds of their words as part of their meaning.
Alliteration adds musicality to a line, which can help to energize the meaning of the words that the poet uses.
An alliterative phrase of more than two successive words can add to the effect. For example, in the poem Pied Beauty, Hopkins strings together four alliterative words: "...swift, slow; sweet, sour..."
In this example, these four alliterative words slow the poem allowing the reader to savor the experience more completely.
Examples of alliteration in poetry
- The poem Pied Beauty (see below) by the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is recognized as one of the best examples of alliteration in English poetry.
- From Candy corn by Jan R:
Dwindle do the autumn leaves to the ground.
- From Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou:
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
- From All the World’s a Stage by William Shakespeare:
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice
- From The Ballad of the Harp Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
- From Waiting at the Window by A. A. Milne. On the last line in this example note how "one" and "will" alliterate even though they use different letters:
These are my two drops of rain
Waiting on the window-pane.
I am waiting here to see
Which the winning one will be.
- From The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson:
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown--
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
- From Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In this example, the entire line uses alliteration:
Alone, alone, all, all alone
- From Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats:
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844- 1889)
Glory be to God for dappled things – For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.