Poetry is filled with alliteration because it lends itself naturally to the tone and musicality of the poetry. Take a look at these poems that are filled will alliteration and see how they affect not only the sound, but also the meaning of the poems:
1. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
ONCE upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.
The alliteration in Poe’s poetry is frequent and almost always with purpose. They add to the singsong quality of the poetry and help the speaker to tell the story with a certain rhythm that adds to the suspense.
2. Paradise Lost by John Milton
Scarce from his mold
Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved
Milton uses alliteration throughout Paradise Lost to add to the grandiose story and sound of the text – saying “Behemoth, biggest born” has more of a punch than “biggest born” alone does – even though that is alliteration as well.
3. Sir Galahad by Alfred Lord Tennyson
But blessed forms in whistling storms
Fly o’er waste fens and windy fields.
The “f” sounds in the second line listed here adds to the onomatopoetic quality of the poem – read it out loud and you can almost hear the sounds of the “flying” that you are doing in the poem.
4. Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is quite a long poem, so it I is conceivable that Coleridge wanted to use alliteration so that the poem would continue to roll off the tongue. He also used it to connect key themes and symbols.
5. The Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
Maya Angelou uses alliteration to link together phrases, and more importantly, the beautiful imagery she uses throughout her poems.
6. Beowulf as translated by Seamus Heaney
He was four times a father, this fighter prince:
one by one they entered the world,
Heorogar, Hrothgar, the good Halga
and a daughter, I have heard, who was Onela´s queen,
a balm in bed to the battle-scarred Swede.
There is almost no poem in the English language that has more alliteration than Beowulf – in many translations, it is in every line. The lines flow better and help give better mental images.
7. Sonnet #5 by William Shakespeare
Sap checked with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’er-snowed and bareness every where:
Then were not summer’s distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty’s effect with beauty were beref
Shakespeare’s poetry, especially his famous sonnets, were lined with alliteration. Typically it happens irregularly, but it is always used to great effect. Here, it adds to the romantic tone of the poem.
8. “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died -” by Emily Dickinson
I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –
The alliteration is spaced out more in Emily Dickinson’s poem about death, but it serves to connect the contrasting images of Stillness and Storm in this poem.
9. Birches by Robert Frost
They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
This use of the “cr” sound mimics the sound of ice breaking and trees knocking against each other like they would in the winter. Check through Frost’s other poems – you will see similar patterns!
10. To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Notice, again, how the alliteration in this poem makes the romance really pop from the text. The alliteration in “long love” in particular is heralded for its romance.