Poetry: Assonance and Alliteration

When I was taught the rudiments of poetry in English class, we covered such vague topics as ‘alliteration’ and ‘assonance’. But some of my questions were never answered, so I figured I’d throw it out to the Teeming Millions and see if they can reveal the facts…

Is alliteration:
a) Similar sounds in words within a poem?
b) Same initial letters in words within a poem?
c) Something else?

Is assonance:
a) The ‘s’ sound within a poem?
b) The ‘s’ sound used repeatedly within a poem?
c) The ‘s’ sound used repeatedly as an initial letter only in words within a poem?
d) Something else?

And finally:

Why is assonance recognised as separate from normal alliteration?

Thanks guys! I know the answers are out there…

“Well, roll me in eggs and flour and bake me for forty minutes!”

The Legend Of PigeonMan

Alliteration: n. the repetition of the same consonant sounds or of different vowel sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables.

Assonance: n. resemblance, especially of the vowel sounds, in words.

Third question, dunno.

Assonance is called “internal rhyming” such as “loony tunes” and sounds rhythmic. Alliteration is less poetic.
Two very similar things, but, by their names - asSONance and alLITERation - differed. One sounds rhythmic the other can only appear rhythmic on paper.

It’s been a real slice gang, but I start a new job today and can’t bullshit with you as much as I’d like. You are a great bunch, smart, eclectic, witty as hell, I’ll try and get back here as often as I can. I don’t think I’ll be posting from work - I’ll be an hourly consultant.

Al Zheimers:

Now you’ve done it. You actually dragged me into a lit crit discussion of poetry. Whaddya mean? “Alliteration is less poetic.” Read any of the Sagas or Eddas lately? Tripped through Beowulf in recent memory?

Alliteration is a very strong element in poetry. It isn’t as highly regarded in Romance language poetry as in Norse and Ancient Germanic, but it is still a vital element.

Among the northern language groups mentioned, above, strong alliteration was highly prized, while mere rhyming was pretty much ignored.


Oh, and in regards to the OP: assonance can be repetition of any sound, but usually refers to vowels, not consonants and to sounds internal to the word rather than initial sounds (alliteration) or final sounds (rhyme).

To steal from the second definition of assonance from the on-line Merriam-Webster:


Well, maybe I got mixed up then, because I was sure that we were told there was one specifically for ‘s’ sounds…

Darn, can it be my confusion at the time had legitimate grounds? Doggone it!

“Well, roll me in eggs and flour and bake me for forty minutes!”

The Legend Of PigeonMan

The way I learned it (and have since written about and taught it):

Assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound.

Consonance is the repetition of (wait for it) a consonant sound.

Alliteration is the repetition of a sound (usually but not necessarily a consonant) at the beginning of two or more words.

Sibilance is the over-pronunciation or “hissing” of the “s” sound. It is not a term in poetics, but in audio engineering, speech therapy, and other related fields.

And this gives me the opportunity to quote my all-time favorite poem, The Beatles’ “Mother Nature’s Son”:

“Swaying daisies sing a lazy song beneath the sun.”

None of these words rhyme in the strictest sense (the strict definition of rhyme being two words with exactly the same sounds from the final accented syllable onwards). The long “A” sound in “swaying,” “daisies,” and “lazy” is an example of assonance. The “z” sounds in “daisies” and “lazy” are an example of consonance. And the initial “S” sounds in “swaying,” “sing,” “song,” and “sun” are alliterative.

(One could make the arguement that “S” and “Z” are close enough reinforce each other and perhaps even be considered the same sound, but I don’t know if there’s a word for that.)

This is from memory, I may have it wrong, but my favorite alliteration is from the play within the play in Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Whereat with blade, with blameful blade, he bravely broached his broiling and bloody breast.

Sadly, the 1999 movie version (with Kevin Kline as Bottom) omitted this wonderful line, disappointing me enormously.

My memory was close:

Whereat with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely broach’d his boiling bloody breast.

Forgive me tomnndeb I was audacious to quantitate poetry. Who am I to say what is more or less poetic?
I was being fast and clinical when I typed my post and the only alliteration I could think of off the top of my head was “Klu Klux Klan” which is totally unpoetic.

As self-designated snotty intellectual interloper, I’m gonna. . .
stay out of this, cause I don’t care.

(Sorry, my hyperactive semi-literate inner child really wanted to draw attention to the fact that it’s rebelling against its lot in life right now.)

“There is nothing you ought to do, for the simple reason that you know nothing, nothing whatever- make a mental note of that, if you please.”
-V. Nabokov

The word you’re looking for is unpolitic. Let’s not mix the two issues.