As a tutor for high school English students, I’m always surprised to find that classes rarely spend much time on poetry — some of the easiest points on the AP English Literature tests. Poetry involves another language, a set of vocabulary that is erudite and therefore daunting, but it is a language that you can learn. Once you are able to diagram a poem as quickly as you would diagram a sentence (verb — object — abverb — etc), you can quickly ascertain the significance of the words. Like prose, the ‘way’ a poem is written — that is, the style rather than the substance — can serve as a parallel and often more interesting level of analysis. I want to offer here a series of blog posts that treat common devices and terms used in poetry.
When discussing the ‘sound’ of a a rhyme, a line, a stanza, or a poem, one might hear — particularly in Edgar Allen Poe’s works — the repetition of certain sounds that don’t amount to a perfect rhyme but that nonetheless create a certain effect. The major types of rhymes discussed in this blog post are slant, assonance, and consonance.
Slant rhymes — often called half rhymes — match final consonants (bent-ant), sounding similar but never quite rhyming. Emily Dickinson and particularly poets from Scotland, Iceland, and Ireland are known for this technique.
When have I last looked on
The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
Of the dark leopards of the moon?
All the wild witches, those most noble ladies.
(“Lines written in Dejection,” Yeats)
Assonance refers to the matching of vowels in rhyme or within the line of the poem. The following example pairs two examples of assonance — both the A sound and the I sound are stressed.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light …
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Consonance refers to matching of the last consonants of a word.
T was later when the summer went
Than when the cricket came,
And yet we knew that gentle clock
Meant nought but going home.
(“‘Twas Later When the Summer Went,” Emily Dickinson)
Alliteration, though not technically used to describe rhymes, is still a poetic device that deals with matching sounds in a word — in this case, the first letters of the word.
Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade,
He bravely breach’d his boiling bloody breast.
(“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” William Shakespeare)
More more posts on poetry from our editors, click here.