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Other Echoes

There are other ways besides rhyme to create a pattern of sound in a poem. This exercise will introduce them to you, give you a chance to practice each, and then let you decide for yourself how best to use them.

Sitting by the fireside, sewing,
listen to the cattle low;
odd the calls that comfort women -
strong tread; sleep-murmur; each breath the livestock blow.

In the first line, "sitting" and "sewing", and the "side" in "fireside", all start with "s". This echo in the initial sounds of words is called "alliteration". It can add to the rhythmic sense of a poem; it can add to the mood, if the repetitive sound is carefully chosen; it can, if overdone in a crowded room, get you hurt.

There is an additional echo in "by" and "side", in the first line - and "odd" and "calls" in the third. This repetition of vowel sounds is called "assonance".

Read the poem aloud to decide if it's bad or good. I don't care which you decide - but I needed a chance to illustrate "consonance" -- the repetition of a consonant sound.

(Some sources I've read call both vowel and sound repetitions "assonance", and only use "consonance" for the reptition of both first and last sounds: "beach" and "batch", "couch" and "catch".)

What other examples of assonance, consonance, and alliteration can you find in those four lines?

Now let's examine each of these tools in more detail.


One of the verse forms that depended on alliteration was the Norse skaldic saga. The closest example I have on hand is actually a parody; the story of the Alamo, told as a Norse saga, in the fantasy romp Silverlock by John Myers Myers.

Harsh was that hearing for Houston the Raven;
Foes had enfeebled the fortress at Bexar,
Leaving it lacking and looted the while
Hordes were sweeping swift on his land,
Hell-bent to crush him. The cunning old prince,
Did not, though, despair at danger's onrushing.
Hardy with peril, he held it, perused it;
Reading each rune of it. Reaching the facts,
He thumbed through his thanes till he thought of the one
Whose guts and gray matter were grafted most neatly.
"Riders," he rasped, "to race after Bowie!"

The rest of the story

As demonstrated, alliteration was the key of the saga form.

Alliteration has also been an old, fond tool of comedy.

The time has come, the Walrus said,
To speak of many things,
Of ships and sails and sealing wax,
And cabbages and kings.

Alliteration can also be used for serious esthetic effect. He is not to everyone's taste, but I happen to be fond of Gerard Manley Hopkins. This is an example of alliteration from "The Windhover" (1877):

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

One of the aspects to be aware of in the use of alliteration is the different psychological effect of various repeated sounds. A repeated "m" sound gives a feeling of hush, containment, murmuring. A repeated "k" sound is harsh, abrasive, threatening, or angry. A repeated "l" sound is lilting. Repeated "p" sounds very quickly become comical.

Exercise: Alliteration


Write an extended sample of alliteration for each one of the following letters:
  • A
  • D
  • H
  • K
  • M
  • P

Want more? Try:

  • B
  • F
  • I
  • R
  • S
  • T

What is the difference in effect of each?

Guidelines for Critique

1) What is the effect of this particular alliteration?

2) Does the word choice seem strained, or natural? When two words alliterate, do they seem like words that fit there for other reasons, or words that were simply chosen to have the same first sound?


Select one of the following uses of alliteration:
  • Skaldic saga
  • Comedy
  • "Real poetry" (i.e. whatever your own favorite style is)

Do it.

Guidelines for critique:

Poems should be critiqued on every basis that a poem would be, with the addition of

1) What effect does the alliteration have? And how effective is it?

2) Does the word choice seem natural, or strained?

Exercise: Assonance and Consonance


Pick a paragraph of prose from any source. Rephrase it, using words that echo each others vowels, or consonants. Examine it. What is the difference in effect?

This exercise need not be submitted for critique. If you do submit it, please include both the original paragraph, and your adaptation.

Guidelines for critique

For paragraphs submitted for critique:

1) What is the effect of the second paragraph, compared to the first?

2) Are there any inconsistencies in effect - sounds that conflict or distract from the overall impression?


Write a poem, not under 30 words and not over 300, that uses alliteration, assonance, and consonance.

Guidelines for critique

Poems should be critiqued on every basis that a poem would be, with the addition of

1) What effect do the sound echoes have? And how effective is it?

2) Does the word choice seem natural, or strained?

Now --
Write On!