Consonance is a literary device in which there is repetition of similar consonant sounds. It is a specific type of alliteration. Frequently used sounds include ‘ck’ ‘t’ or ‘p’.
Consonance also differs from assonance, which is the repetition of a vowel sound in a word, sentence or phrase. Other related techniques include dissonance, sibilance and plosive consonants.
Why use Consonance?
- Structure and rhythm: This technique is often used to create a rhythm or cadence due to the way in which consecutive similar sounds can influence the pace and feel of a poem.
- Shape emotions: Some consonant sounds are harsh (e.g. ‘k’) whereas others have a softer sound (e.g. ‘f’). This can help contribute to the overall feel of words and phrases, and therefore a reader’s understanding of them. The technique can help to place additional meaning and emotion on words, which on their own they wouldn’t be able to achieve.
- Reiterate a point: Consonance helps to draw attention to specific text, particularly extended uses of the device, which helps the writer to reiterate a certain point, aspect or idea.
Carol Ann Duffy uses consonance in ‘The Map-Woman’ in order to create a link between two stanzas and emphasise a point.
“found that what was familiar // was only façade”
These two lines are separate across a significant break of two stanzas, however the enjambment combined with the use of consonance with the ‘f’ sound helps to maintain a link and continue the overall tone and rhythm of the poem. This ensures that Duffy can maintain the fundamental structure of the poem, while linking two important aspects together.
Consonance is also utilised in the last line of ‘History’ by John Burnside (Poems of the Decade), helping to emphasise emotions and make the conclusion of a moving poem even more memorable.
“patient; afraid; but still, through everything // attentive to the irredeemable”
The whole phrase comes across as relatively repetitive due to the multiple syllables in “attentive” and “irredeemable” and consonance of the ‘t’ ‘d’ and ‘th’ sounds. These sounds could be interpreted by some readers as either sounding similar to gunfire, or showing the extent of the emotion overcoming the narrator that the words are beginning to sound ‘shaky’ and unstable.