Sound Devices

Sound Devices Definition

Sound devices are literary elements used in prose and poetry to stress certain sounds and create musical effects.  The writers make their texts vibrant, emotive and pleasing with the use of these devices. Also, they create pointed and special effects in their writings that help the readers in understanding the literary piece at a deeper level. However, the writers intentionally stress some syllables to emphasize sound that appeals to the readers in a certain way.

Types of Sound Devices

There are many types of sound devices. For example,

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line.
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line.
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line.
  4. Meter: It is a unit of rhythm in poetry, the pattern of the beats.
  5. Onomatopoeia: It refers to the word which imitates the natural sounds of the things.

Examples of Sound Devices from Literature

Example #1

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 Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –
I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

I Heard a Fly Buzz When I died’ is a simple and lucid poem, reflects the morbidity of death. The dead speaker is transcribing the events that led to her death.  Also, she explains what she felt while dying. She says that she heard a fly buzz when taking her last breath, then details the moments that led up to this event. Emily has used sound devices to make it a pleasant literary piece. There is an assonance in the first line where /i/ sound is repeated in the same line. For example, “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died.” Consonance is used in the sixth line where /r/ sound is repeated to create a special effect such as, “The Eyes around – had wrung them dry.” Emily has also used Onomatopoeia “buzz” which is repeated in the first and last stanza of the poem

Example #2

A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what the matter was.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.

The poem talks about a very well-known tradition of Christmas and illustrates the merriment and excitement of a family at the arrival of St. Nicholas. He comes every year with a lot of gifts and sweets. Clement has made this poem unique with appropriate use of sound devices. He has used onomatopoeias like “prancing”, “clatter” and “pawing” to create sound in the poem. Similarly, alliteration is used in the opening lines. For example, “When what to my wondering eyes did appear,” the poet has repeated the consonants /w/ to create a pointed effect in the poem.

Example #3

Little Bo-Peep by Mother Goose

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can’t tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, and they’ll come home,
Bringing their tails behind them.

Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep,
And dreamt she heard them bleating;
But when she awoke, she found it a joke,
For they were still all fleeting.

The poem presents the agony and loss of a young girl who loses her flock of sheep and never unites with it again. She tries to look for them. Instead, she finds their tails. This gruesome incident makes her heart bleed. The poet has used sound devices such as alliteration, consonance, onomatopoeia and assonance with a perfect blend of visual images to make it a superb literary piece. ‘Bleep’ is used as an Onomatopoeia in the sixth line and alliteration is used in the first line of the 2nd stanza and 3rd line of the last stanza. For example, /f/ sound in “Little Bo-Peep fell fast asleep” and /sh/ sound in “And tried what she could, as a shepherdess should.”

Sound Devices Meaning and Function

Sound devices are resources the poets use in their texts with a unique blend of sounds, rhythm, and imagery. Their skillful use pertains to the senses and allows the readers to feel the effects of the text. They are used in a variety of ways to enhance the meanings of the text. As music and musical notes comprise low and high-pitched tunes and meters, poets use sound devices to create musical effects through these literary and poetic pieces.


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