Assonance

Definition of Assonance

Assonance is a literary device in which the repetition of similar vowel sounds takes place in two or more words in proximity to each other within a line of poetry or prose. Assonance most often refers to the repetition of internal vowel sounds in words that do not end the same. For example, “he fell asleep under the cherry tree” is a phrase that features assonance with the repetition of the long “e” vowel, despite the fact that the words containing this vowel do not end in perfect rhymes. This allows writers the means of emphasizing important words in a phrase or line, as well as creating a sense of rhythm, enhancing mood, and offering a lyrical effect of words and sounds.

In his poem “Player Piano,” John Updike offers a powerful example of assonance for his reader in the line “never my numb plunker fumbles.” By repeating vowel sounds in “numb,” “plunker,” and “fumbles,” Updike is able to emphasize the “clunky” rhythm and sounds of these words when put together. This creates an interesting contrast in consideration of the poem’s title, which would more likely indicate a presence of melodious words and sounds in the poem.

Common Examples of Assonance

Many common phrases utilize assonance. People use them in everyday speech for emphasis or to reflect mood. Here are some examples of common uses of assonance:

  • Son of a gun
  • The cat is out of the bag
  • Dumb luck
  • After awhile, crocodile
  • Chips and dip
  • Cock of the walk
  • Goodnight, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite
  • Stranger danger
  • Winner, winner, chicken dinner
  • Motion of the ocean
  • Keep your eyes on the prize
  • Lean, mean, fighting machine
  • Wild child
  • Surf and turf

Examples of Assonance in Song

Assonance is a useful device when it comes to song lyrics and titles. Here are some examples of assonance in well-known songs:

  • “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” (Hans Carste)
  • “I recall Central Park in fall” (“Danke Schoen” Wayne Newton)
  • “Rock Around the Clock” (Bill Haley and His Comets)
  • “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” (musical “My Fair Lady”)
  • “Back in Black” (AC/DC)
  • Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam” (“Home on the Range” Daniel E. Kelley and Brewster M. Higley)
  • Only the Lonely” (Roy Orbison)
  • “Say hey, good lookin’. Whatcha got cookin’?” (“Hey Good Lookin'” Hank Williams, Jr.)
  • “Crocodile Rock” (Elton John)
  • “Light My Fire” (The Doors)
  • “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright” (“Silent Night” Joseph Mohr)

Famous Examples of Assonance

Think you haven’t heard of any famous phrases with assonance? Here are some well-known and recognizable examples of this :

  • Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary (“The RavenEdgar Allan Poe)
  • I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am. (“Green Eggs and Ham” Dr. Seuss)
  • Nine nice night nurses nursing nicely (English language tongue-twister)
  • Nutter Butter (American cookie brand)
  • This little light of mine, I‘m going to let it shine (gospel/spiritual Harry Dixon Loes)
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring (painting by Johannes Vermeer)

Difference Between Assonance and Alliteration

Assonance and alliteration are often confused with each other when it comes to literary devices. They are similar in the sense that they rely on repetition of sound in words that are either adjacent or in close proximity to each other. However, assonance refers to the repetition of vowel sounds. Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words.

An example of alliteration would be the title of a poem by Shel Silverstein: Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out. The first four words of this title repeat the sound of the consonant “s,” even though the word Cynthia begins with a different consonant. Like assonance, alliteration is repetition of sound for literary effect. However, assonance is strictly limited to repeated vowel sounds.

Both assonance and alliteration can influence the rhythm of poetry and prose. In addition, the repetition of sound for both assonance and alliteration must take place in words that are near each other within a phrase or line. Otherwise, the effect is likely to go unnoticed by the reader. When used properly as literary devices, they can enhance the meaning of literature as well as the enjoyment and artful use of words and their sounds.

Writing Assonance

Overall, as a literary device, assonance functions as a means of creating rhythm through stressing syllables with repetitious vowel sounds. In addition, assonance can regulate the pacing of a poem or line of text. For example, long vowel sounds tend to slow the pace of reading, whereas short vowel sounds tend to quicken a reader’s pace. This control of pacing is an effective device utilized by writers to create or indicate the tone and mood of a literary work.

Like any literary device, writers should avoid overuse of assonance. Too many instances of assonance in any form of literature can be distracting and ineffective for the reader. Therefore, it’s best to make subtle and sparing use of assonance.

Here are some ways that writers benefit from incorporating assonance into their work:

Use of Rhythm

Assonance allows writers to create a sense of rhythm in their work. This is especially effective when it comes to poetry. In writing, rhythm is based on patterns of syllables and sounds that are stressed and unstressed. With repetition of vowel sounds, writers can control which syllables are stressed in a line of poetry or prose, thereby creating rhythms that are quick, slow, or a combination. This talent for assonance allows for variety in the pacing of words which enhances the experience for the reader.

Enhance Mood

In many art forms, sound is a crucial technique in setting tone and enhancing mood. Assonance is an example of this technique in writing. With vowel sounds in particular, a writer can create a somber, lighthearted, playful, or even chilling mood in a poem or work of prose, just through repetition.

Lyrical Effect

In addition to creating rhythm in a work of poetry or prose, assonance also creates a lyrical effect for the reader. Vowel repetition can enhance the meaning of words in literature as well as their musicality. Though assonance is more similar to internal than end rhyme, the quality of repeated sound can mimic the quality of a repeated note or chord in a phrase of music. This lyrical effect has great value for the reader of a line of poetry or prose. As a literary device, assonance can demonstrate the harmony and musical quality of word choice and language.

Examples of Assonance in Literature

Assonance is an effective literary device. Here are some examples of assonance and how it adds to the artistic quality of well-known literary works:

Example 1: Look, Stranger (W.H. Auden)

Here at the small field’s ending pause

Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and it’s tall ledges

Oppose the pluck

Auden utilizes assonance as a literary device in this poem to create a sense of rhythm and lyrical effect. The words “chalk,” “wall,” and “falls,” are not only repetitive in their vowel sounds, but there are no words in between to separate them. This has a rhythmic effect for the reader that echoes the visual image that the words conjure forth. The awkward repetition of the vowel sound in these words creates a sense of crumbling in the way that a chalk wall would fall.

Yet in addition to a rhythmic effect, the assonance in this part of Auden’s poem is also lyrical. The uninterrupted repetition of the vowel in the second line mirrors a lyrical descent or even decrescendo of words and sounds. As a literary device, assonance creates poetic imagery and lyricism in Auden’s work.

Example 2: the mother (Gwendolyn Brooks)

Though why should I whine,

Whine that the crime was other than mine?–

Since anyhow you are dead.

In this heart-wrenching poem about abortion, loss, and maternal love, Brooks utilizes assonance as a means of reinforcing the poet’s guilt and suffering. The repetition of the long “i” vowel in “whine,” “crime,” and “mine” reflects a haunting sound of a baby’s cries. In addition, the assonance in this poem mirrors the poet’s own impulse to cry and whine as a result of her suffering.
This vowel sound also reinforces to the reader the presence of the pronoun “I” in the first line. The sound of her words underscores the poet’s feelings of recurring guilt and the idea that the loss of her babies is a deliberate yet isolating action. The poet acknowledges her responsibility for the “crime,” while simultaneously separating herself as “I” once again in a symbolic way from her babies, “you.”

Example 3: Up-Hill (Christina Rossetti)

But is there for the night a resting-place?
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
   You cannot miss that inn.
In her poem, Rossetti structures each stanza with queries and responses. This is effective for the reader in that the poem appears to have two voices: one that questions and one that answers. This balance between uncertainty and surety is enhanced by the poet’s use of assonance in the final line of this stanza.
Rossetti utilizes assonance in the form of repeated short “i” vowels in “miss” and “inn.” This serves to reinforce a definitive tone of certainty in the response. In addition, the short vowel sound in those words creates a rhythm in the poem by emphasizing and punctuating those short words. This literary device sets forth an effective contrast between the last line of this stanza and the longer, more lyrical lines that precede it.