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Assonance

Assonance is one of several techniques of adding musicality to the flow of sounds within a given passage of text. Moreover, assonance is an especially useful one because when it is done right, it can give the illusion of rhyme. Such an illusion is quite effective not only in poetry but also prose, insofar as actually rhymes in the latter may seem a little too forced, whereas assonance is more implicit and subtle.

Introducing assonance

Assonance is a literary device in which two or more words are placed close to each, repeating the same vowel sound. The words start with different consonant sounds, however. The effect is used in poetics, lyrics, and marketing campaigns quite often, and helps create a sense of persistence in the mind of the reader or listener. In poetry, assonance helps add rhythm and cadence to verse (known as internal rhyme), and in music assonance adds flow and beat. Assonance can be used to remember something (like a mnemonic), and so creates a stronger imprint of an idea, concept, or image in the mind of the reader or listener.

Examples & rules of assonance

Examples of assonance in literature, poetry, and music are many and varied. The main rule to remember is that the vowel sound does not differ in pronunciation; it is pronounced the same way throughout the phrase. Using the same vowel with a different pronunciation, therefore, is not acceptable in true assonance.

Here is an example of assonance from a poem by Edgar Allen Poe entitled The Bells – A Collaboration:

  1. “Hear the mellow wedding bells, Golden bells! What a world of happiness their harmony foretells!”
  2. “In the silence of the night, how we shiver with affright at the melancholy menace of their tone! For every sound that floats from the rust within their throats is a groan.”

Poe’s most famous poem, The Raven, uses assonance consistently and to great poetic effect:

  1. “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.”

Another example from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Feast of Famine:

  1. “From folk that sat on the terrace and drew out the even long sudden crowings of laughter, monotonous drone of song.”
  2. “The quiet passage of souls over his head in the trees; and from all around the haven the crumbling thunder of the seas.”

Additional information

Assonance is a more difficult poetical technique to master than simpler devices such as metaphors or similies. The way in which assonance is used can drastically or subtly alter the mood of a particular poem or verse. For instance, higher vowel sounds increase energy and lighten the mood of the words, whereas long vowel sounds may decrease energy and slow down the pace to make the tone more serious. The repetitive sounds add color to poetry, verse, and writing which create an almost audible rhythm, beat, or sound in the mind of the reader or listener. This adds to the depth and breadth of the writing or reading, increasing the pleasure of the experience. 

Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven is a time-tested masterpiece, and uses assonance in conjunction with Poe’s other two favorite poetical or literary devices, consonance and alliteration. Here he uses the short “e” vowel sound combined with the repeated consonant sounds of “s” and “r” to create the whispering effects of spirits and the shivery thrills they produce in the speaker of the poem:

“And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

‘‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -

This it is, and nothing more.’”

Here Poe also enlists the help of repetition in his verse, and effect which he uses throughout to help create the strong rhythm with symbolizes the faster beating of the speaker’s heart while the poem progresses and the fear mounts.

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