Definition of Assonance
Assonance takes place when two or more words close to one another repeat the same vowel sound but start with different consonant sounds.
“Men sell the wedding bells.”
The same vowel sound of the short vowel “-e-” repeats itself in almost all the words excluding the definite article. The words do share the same vowel sounds but start with different consonant sounds unlike alliteration that involves repetition of the same consonant sounds. Below are a few examples that are more common:
Common Examples of Assonance
- We light fire on the mountain.
- I feel depressed and restless.
- Go and mow the lawn.
- Johnny went here and there and everywhere.
- The engineer held the steering to steer the vehicle.
Examples of Assonance in Literature
Assonance is primarily used in poetry in order to add rhythm and music, by adding an internal rhyme to a poem. Let us look at some examples of assonance from literature.
Try to notice the use of assonance in Robert Frosts poem “Fire and Ice”:
“He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dar and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
The underlined bold letters in the above extract are vowels that are repeated to create assonance.
Assonance sets the mood of a passage in Carl Sandburg’s Early Moon:
“Poetry is old, ancient, goes back far. It is among the oldest of living things. So old it is that no man knows how and why the first poems came.”
Notice how the long vowel “o” in the above extract helps emphasize the idea of something being old and mysterious.
The sound of long vowels slows down the pace of a passage and sets an atmosphere that is grave and serious. Look at the following example taken from Cormac McCarthy’s “Outer Dark”:
“And stepping softly with her air of blooded ruin about the glade in a frail agony of grace she trailed her rags through dust and ashes, circling the dead fire, the charred billets and chalk bones, the little calcined ribcage.”
The repetition of the long vowel in the above passage lays emphasis on the frightening atmosphere that the writer wants to depict.
Similarly, we notice the use of long vowels in a passage from Dylan Thomas’ famous poem “Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night”:
“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.”
The poet deliberately uses assonance in the above lines to slow down the pace of the lines and create a somber mood, as the subject of the poem is death.
William Wordsworth employs assonance to create an internal rhyme in his poem “Daffodils”:
“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o‘er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…”
Below are a few brief examples of assonance from different writers:
“If I bleat when I speak it’s because I just got . . . fleeced.” – Deadwood by Al Swearengen
“Those images that yet,
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.” – Byzantium by W.B. Yeats
“Strips of tinfoil winking like people” – The Bee Meeting by Sylvia Plath
“I must confess that in my quest I felt depressed and restless.” – With Love by Thin Lizzy
Function of Assonance
Similar to any other literary device, assonance also has a very important role to play in both poetry and prose. Writers use it as a tool to enhance a musical effect in the text by using it for creating internal rhyme, which consequently enhances the pleasure of reading a literary piece. In addition, it helps writers to develop a particular mood in the text that corresponds with its subject matter.