Setting the Mood with Assonance
In this example by Carl Sandburg, in Early Moon, the long “o” sounds old or mysterious.
“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.”
Assonance examples are sometimes hard to find, because they work subconsciously sometimes, and are subtle. The long vowel sounds will slow down the energy and make the mood more somber, while high sounds can increase the energy level of the piece.
Notice how the mood is set by using the long “A” in this excerpt from Cormac McCarthy’s book, 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 words “glade,” “frail,” “grace,” and “trailed” help set the chilling mood of the work, and it is repeated and emphasized at the end with “ribcage.”
Dylan Thomas’ famous poem “Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night” touches upon the subject of death and also sets the mood by using assonance as a literary tool:
“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 sightBlind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Here are a few short assonance examples:
- “Hear the mellow wedding bells” by Edgar Allen Poe
- “Try to light the fire”
- “I lie down by the side fo my bride”/”Fleet feet sweep by sleeping geese”/”Hear the lark and harden to the barking of the dark fox gone to ground” by Pink Floyd
- “It’s hot and it’s monotonous.” by Sondheim
- “The crumbling thunder of seas” by Robert Louis Stevenson
- “If I bleat when I speak it’s because I just got . . . fleeced.” – “Deadwood” by Al Swearengen
- “It beats . . . as it sweeps . . . as it cleans!” – slogan for Hoover vacuum cleaners
- “Those images that yet/Fresh images beget,/That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea.” – “Byzantium” by W.B. Yeats
- “Soft language issued from their spitless lips as they swished in low circles round and round the field, winding hither and thither through the weeds” – “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce
- “The spider skins lie on their sides, translucent and ragged, their legs drying in knots.” – “Holy the Firm” by Annie Dillard
- “The setting sun was licking the hard bright machine like some great invisible beast on its knees.” – “Death, Sleep, and the Traveler” by John Hawkes
- “I must confess that in my quest I felt depressed and restless.” – “With Love” by Thin Lizzy
- “In the over-mastering loneliness of that moment, his whole life seemed to him nothing but vanity.” – “Night Rider” by Robert Penn Warren
- “A lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active Adam’s apple, ogling Lo and her orange-brown bare midriff, which I kissed five minutes later, Jack.” – “Lotita” by Vladimir Nabokov
- “Strips of tinfoil winking like people” – “The Bee Meeting” by Sylvia Plath
Consonance and Alliteration
Another literary device used by writers and poets is consonance. It is the repetition of the final consonant sounds, usually in the more important words or in the accented syllables.
Here are some examples of consonance: “I dropped the locket in the thick mud.” and “as in guys she gently sways at ease” from The Silken Tent by Robert Frost.
Alliteration also deals with consonants, but repeats the first one in the words. This is the easiest device to spot, and can be fun to say, as in tongue twisters. Examples include:
- “Betty bought butter but the butter was bitter, so Betty bought better butter to make the bitter butter better.”
- “A skunk sat on a stump. The stump thought the skunk stunk. The skunk thought the stump stunk. What stunk, the skunk or the stump?”
Literary examples of alliteration include:
- “Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade, He bravely breach’d his boiling bloody breast.” from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
- Dancing Dolphins/Those tidal thorough/breds that tango through the turquoise tide./Their taut tails thrashing they twist in tribute to the titans./They twirl through the trek tumbling towards the tide./Throwing themselves towards those theatrical thespians. – by Paul McCann
Edgar Allan Poe was a master of assonance, consonance, and alliteration. Here is one line from the poem The Raven:
“And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain”
In this one line, assonance is the “ur” sound in “purple” and “curtain”, consonance is the “s” sound in “uncertain” and “rustling”, and alliteration is shown in the “s” sound at the beginning of “silked” and “sad.”
Other Literary Devices
Similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and onomatopoeia are other tools to make writing interesting, descriptive, and colorful:
- Similes use the words “as” or “like” in making a comparison, like “as busy as a bee” and “You are as annoying as nails on a chalkboard.”
- Metaphors on the other hand, compare two unlike things that have something in common. The statement doesn’t make sense, until you think about it and see the comparison that is being made. Examples of metaphors are: “The world is my oyster” and “I am going to be toast when I get home.”
- Hyperbole is an outrageous exaggeration, like “I am so hungry I could eat a horse.” “You snore louder than a freight train.” and “If he talks to me, I will die of embarrassment.”
- Onomatopoeia uses words that sound like their meaning, like “The burning wood hissed and crackled” or words like: clap, boom, or zap.
All of these literary devices make writing and reading fun. Each has its own purpose; but, you can’t beat the use of assonance to reinforce meanings or to set the mood.