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What Is the Function of Consonance in Poetry?

By A. Gamm
Updated May 23, 2024
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Consonance, the repetition of consonants within two or more words in sequence, is a popular, multifaceted literary device. It is often confused with alliteration, which is a type of consonance. Consonance serves many similar functions as alliteration as well as its own special functions. Generally speaking, consonance in poetry provides varied auditory range.

Modern poems use consonance as a slant rhyme or near rhyme. This consonance in slant or near rhyme allows the writer more creative freedom when creating his or her poetry. Consonance in poetry also emphasizes words by forcing the audience to take pause and think deeper into the “rhyming” words. This is because it disrupts the audience’s expectations of traditional rhyming.

A stream of consonance serves the purpose of drawing the audience into the words. This happens through the metered beat that consonance takes on, just like the beats in rap music. Consonance in poetry can take on an almost hypnotic beat that captivates the audience without being as obvious as alliteration. Using different types of consonance within a poem also prevents it from sounding like a child’s rhyme, unlike a poetic device such as alliteration.

The use of consonance in poetry, just like other poetic devices such as assonance and alliteration, is said to give a poem “bounce.” The repeated consonant is always on the stressed syllable, which creates an even more emphasized sound on the consonant words. When mixed with other words within the phrase that has consonance, one's voice naturally rises and dips, creating a “bouncing” sound. This sound naturally excites the ears and the brain.

The attention to the many parts of each word and the phrases in combination with the excitement that consonance brings acts as a thread carrying the audience through the poem. These components act as a satisfying activity and even an auditory journey for the reader or listener. It makes the reader anticipate the upcoming lines within the poem and feel a desire to continue to the end. The poem thus has the potential to become almost like a game for the audience if the poet so chooses to use consonance in such a way.

Consonance also can provide added depth and texture to the words. This is because when certain words use consonance, especially double consonance or pararhyme, it emphasizes that there might be a closer semantic link between the words and the emotion that is being conveyed within the poem. This function of consonance is used often by modern poets and novelists alike.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Apr 28, 2012

@umbra21 - I think that consonance and other similar devices are especially useful for people who are expecting their work to be read aloud, such as the older poets did, and such as performance poets will do today.

But consonance and alliteration in poetry which is meant to be read can seem a little bit childish to me now, if they aren't done extremely well, or perhaps a little bit tongue in cheek.

I think it's difficult to parse meaning when it is being spoken and any device to make a spoken poem more interesting should be used.

But most people can pick up written meaning well enough and so adding unnecessary devices makes a poem clunky and amateur in my mind.

Of course, poetry appreciation is relative and there are always exceptions, so take my words with a bit of salt.

By umbra21 — On Apr 27, 2012

@pastanaga - Well, can't you have both? I mean, I know there's a school of thought which says that all poetry should sound spontaneous and raw, but I still enjoy the poems of people like Wordsworth who must have spent a long time perfecting each line so that it sounds good.

But, if you've ever really paid attention to his words, they are usually pretty clever and even funny. He was definitely getting his point across, consonance, assonance, alliteration and all.

I think when people pay too much attention to the shape of their words over the meaning of their words they do produce bad poetry and that's one of the reasons that most people are discouraged from trying to rhyme, but there's no reason they shouldn't try to make it sound beautiful.

By pastanaga — On Apr 26, 2012

I've always liked playing around with words and making poetry but I've never paid much attention to things like consonance while I was doing it.

I would just arrange the words in a way that sounded good to me.

Lately, people have been telling me that I've achieved some kind of natural rhythm in a lot of my work and that I do use consonance, even if it is unconscious.

In some ways I think that's better. I don't like it when poetry sounds forced and I think when people pay more attention to the sounds of the words than to the words themselves and the meaning they are putting across, that's when it ends up sounding forced and too pretty for its own good.

I'd rather hear gritty poems without any fancy tricks than ones which sound good, myself.

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