Consonance

Consonance Definition

Consonance refers to repetitive sounds produced by consonants within a sentence or phrase. This repetition often takes place in quick succession such as in pitter, patter. It is classified as a literary term used in both poetry as well as prose. For instance, the words chuckle, fickle, and kick are consonant with one and other due to the existence of common interior consonant sounds (/ck/).

The literary device of consonance is inherently different from assonance which involves the repetition of similar vowel sounds within a word, sentence, or phrase. Another distinction to be appreciated is that of between consonance and rhyme. In the case of rhyme, consonant sounds can be present at the beginning, middle, or end of several successive words, rather than merely at the ends of words.  Further, the device of consonance needs to be distinguished from alliteration.  In contrast to alliteration, consonance involves repetition of consonant sounds only.

William Harmon his book A Handbook on Literature notes that “most so-called eye rhymes (such as ‘word’ and ‘lord,’ or ‘blood,’ ‘food,’ and ‘good’) are the most common examples.

Common Consonance Examples

  1. The ship has sailed to the far off shores.
  2. She ate seven sandwiches on a sunny Sunday last year.
  3. Shelley sells shells by the seashore.

Examples of Consonance

1. The following lines from a song also show how consonant sounds have been used repeatedly.

“Rap rejects my tape deck, ejects projectile
Whether Jew or gentile, I rank top percentile
Many styles, more powerful than gamma rays
My grammar pays, like Carlos Santana plays.”
(The lines have been taken from the song ‘Zealots ‘by Fugees.)

2. Just like the poem “T was later when the summer went” by Emily Dickson:

‘T was later when the summer went
Than when the cricket came,
And yet we knew that gentle clock
Meant nought but going home.
‘T was sooner when the cricket went
Than when the winter came,
Yet that pathetic pendulum
Keeps esoteric time.

It can be seen from the lines that Emily Dickinson has made use of the consonant “m” frequently in the italicized words.

3. “Shall I Wasting in Despair” is another example written by George Wither.

Great, or good, or kind, or fair,
I will ne’er the more despair;
If she love me, this believe,
will die ere she shall grieve;
If she slight me when I woo,
I can scorn and let her go;
For if she be not for me,
What care I for whom she be?

Here the use of consonance can be seen through the letters such as r, d, and f.

4. Another poem by Dickinson that makes good use of consonance is “As imperceptibly as Grief”.

A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon

Here Emily Dickinson has relied on the consonant “n” to create the intended effect.

Functions of Consonance

Consonance is commonly employed in a range of situations ranging from poetry to prose writing. However, as the above narrated examples highlight, the use of consonance is significantly greater in poetry writing than its use in the prose form. The use of consonance provides the structure of poetry with a rhyming effect. The writer normally employs the tool of consonance for the purpose of reiterating the significance of an idea or theme. Further, the use of the device makes the structure of poetry or prose appealing for the reader. The poet generally makes use of consonance in an attempt to underscore the emotions behind their words that simple words cannot convey.

Furthermore, the use of consonance adds a lyrical feeling to the poetry that otherwise cannot be added. The significance of the use of consonance in poetry is enhanced by the fact that it is often used to make the imagery employed clearer. It acts as a tool that enables the poet to formulate a fine and powerful structure for his poetry and create a background for the themes underlying the poetry.

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