Alliteration is the repetition of the same or similar sounds at the beginning of words. Most cases will have a series of words directly following each other, but even if there are occasional breaks in the pattern it is still normally considered to be alliteration.

Different types of Alliteration

Assonance
This type of alliteration refers to when words with the same vowel sounds are used next to each other. For example, ‘i’ or ‘e’ sounds.

Consonance
This form of alliteration is where stressed consonant sounds are used next to each other. For example, ‘k’ or ‘t’ sounds.

Why is Alliteration used?

  • To place emphasis: Alliteration is a great way to place emphasis on specific ideas because it is an attention-grabbing technique – both when reading silently due to the repeated letter formations, and particularly so when reading aloud.
  • Building an atmosphere: This technique can be used creatively in order to emphasise certain sounds, which complement the subject matter of a poem; for example harsh, gruff sounds for a description of a harsh and brutal environment. This can be very effective at strengthening imagery and making a poem more memorable.
  • Rhythm and Structure: Long chains of alliteration can arguably be quite disruptive to the flow of a poem, which can have a considerable impact on the overall rhythm of a poem. It can be effective whether it is to slow a section down to help encourage empathy, or speeding up a poem to create a sense of anticipation. Shorter chains can also be effective at providing subtle emphasis to certain points.

Examples of Alliteration

‘The War Correspondent’ (Poems of the Decade) by Ciaran Carson is a poem in which alliteration is highly effective, specifically the use of consonance. It helps to both place emphasis and create relevant sounds, which build an atmosphere.

The repetition of the ‘t’ sound in the following line is very effective because readers may interpret it as sounding similar to the drums of a military parade, or even gunfire. This has the effect of building the imagery that Carson has been creating throughout the poem, and helps make this emotive line more memorable.

“Tangled with rotted trappings”

John Keats in ‘To Autumn’ (English Romantic Verse) also uses this technique to place emphasis on a specific description.

This description is part of an interesting section in the second stanza in which Keats describes Autumn as a goddess-like figure. The alliteration of “winnowing wind” is a simple but effective way at helping to make this line stand out to the reader, and “winnowing” itself links to autumn and the harvest, as it is the process of separating grain from husks.

“Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;”

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