Alliteration is a stylistic literary device that refers to the repetitious use of sounds in words that are closely connected. This repetition may occur at the beginning, middle, or end of the word and may involve consonants or vowels. Alliteration is used in both prose and poetry, but it is often most effective in poetry due to the rhythm it creates.
Repetitious consonant sounds are called consonance. Consonance is found in the following lines from “T was later when the summer went” by Emily Dickenson using the letters c, p, s, t, and w: ‘T was later when the summer went/Than when the cricket came,/And yet we knew that gentle clock/Meant nought but going home./‘T was sooner when the cricket went/Than when the winter came,/Yet that pathetic pendulum/Keeps esoteric time.”
Repetitious vowel sounds are called assonance. Assonance is especially used in poetry to add rhythm or alter mood. The following is an example using the letter e from “Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe: “Hear the mellow wedding bells,/Golden bells!/What a world of happiness their harmony foretells.”
Writers use alliteration to call readers’ attention to a particular passage. The use of alliteration creates a musical rhythm, slows down the pace, and sets the mood of that passage. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe uses d and l sounds in the opening sentence, “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day…” in order to slow down the pace and create a melancholy tone. The repetition of the letter s in a work can conjure up images of snakes, hissing, and deceitfulness.
Alliteration is related to onomatopoeia because both engage the sense of sound. In onomatopoeia, the word imitates the natural sound of something, such as “bam” or “giggle.”
Do you use alliteration in your writing? Do you find alliteration more effective in prose or poetry? Share examples of your favorite passages of alliterative sounds in the comments below.