Filed Under: Poetry

Date Created:17 Aug 2016

Last Modified:17 Aug 2016

Number of Views: 610

Ever heard of alliteration? What exactly is it, and how useful is it in poetry?

Like we learnt earlier, one indispensable ingredient of poetry is rhythm. Alliterative patterns, like rhyme, are one way of achieving this rhythm. It refers to the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words which occur on the same line.

Whether you realize it or not, you are already familiar with alliteration. In addition to poetry, it is used in nursery rhymes, songs, advertisements and tongue twisters.

Ah, let’s go back to your nursery school days. Your teachers really worked hard to inculcate the basics of language into your mind. They contrived all sorts of methods to achieve this end. One of the most famous methods was the nursery rhymes, which I reckon you still remember.

Let us refresh your memory, shall we? Check out the verses below:

Twinkle Twinkle little star,
How I wonder what you are,
Up above the sky so high,
Twinkle twinkle little star

Baa baa black sheep
Have you any wool,
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full

Notice the first line of the first rhyme:

Twinkle Twinkle little star

The first two words begin with the same consonant i.e. ‘ T’, and they are on the same line. Hence this is a good example of alliterative patterns. Same goes for the first line of the second nursery rhyme:

Baa Baa black sheep

The fact that you still remember these nursery rhymes is evidence that alliteration is a powerful memory aid.

So much for nursery rhymes… Imagine that you are walking down the road from the mall and you come across a huge billboard with the words:

Lick Longer with Loll’s Lollipop

You chuckle as you repeat the words. Not only do they subtly prod you to buy loll’s lollipop, but it is nearly
impossible to forget them. Advertisements, such as this, are a good example of alliteration. Here are further examples of the use of alliterative patterns in advertisements:

The Daily Mail – without fear or favour

Ratex, the Rapid Rat Remover

Parmalat, Long Life milk

Why the profuse use of alliteration in advertisements? Maybe they know something, we don’t, eh?

But alliteration is not only found in nursery rhymes and advertisements, of course. It is also made use of in tongue twisters.

Ugh, those irritating tongue twisters…

A certain boy walked up to me one day, when I was standing serenely and almost minding my own business, looked up at me and said, “Hey, can you say this really fast: Free frogs flew to France.”

I smirked. This was way too easy. I opened my big mouth and said:

“Flee flogs frew to Flance.”

Jeez! He really laughed at me, he did. I regretted having opened my mouth. It’s a good thing very few people were around… (I have planned a nice time to hit him with one of my own).

At another time, my friends and I were coming from a preaching expedition and we were having a jolly good time asking each other riddles. Then someone ( I don’t know who) brought up a tongue twister. You know, this time I was a bit more prepared. With a silly little smile on my face, I said:

“She sells seashells at the sea shore.”

Ha! You should have heard the din as they tried to utter those tongue twisting words. But one cannot be too prepared. It was not long before someone brought up another one of ‘em twisters that scramble up my brain:

“Betty Burton bought a pail of bitter butter. If Betty Burton bought a pail of bitter butter, where is the bitter butter that Betty Burton Bought?”

I need not say much at this point, except that my brain became scrambled up. So I promised to come with my own powerful tongue twister that would twist all the tongues on earth. I am still working on it…

I also painstakingly sought out some alliteration in songs. Here is what I found:

The Greatest reward is to love and be loved in return… Nature Boy by Celine Dion.

If I wrote a note to God, I would Speak what’s in my Soul… Note to God by Jojo.

Life is a dream we are dreaming, day by day… Then you look at me by Celine Dion.

However, most songs employ rhyme rather than alliteration.

Okay…now let us consider now alliteration’s use in poetry.

As I said earlier, this echoing of consonants is one of the methods of achieving rhythm. Unlike rhyme which occurs at the word end, alliteration occurs at the beginning of the word. How about a crudely crafted example to illustrate this?

Check out the verses below:

Bold Billy was a brave sailor;
He steered his mighty ship with a stern eye
Venturing onto vast oceans with his valiant men.
He was no foolhardy fellow and knew no folly,
Bad pirates he plundered, the good made partners.
Brave Billy the bold was loved by all the land folk
And hated by the heathen of heinous ways…
But one fine fair day, Billy met his fate;
His men soon sought sour and dastardly deeds,
A vile idea they begot, turned glum and gunned him down
And Brave Billy the bold was no more for aye

I am sure that you had no hard time identifying the alliteration in each and every line. I tried to include it about three times in each line.

However, I want you to pay attention to the line number 10. Did you see notice the pattern of alliteration? Does it in any way differ from the other patterns in the other lines?

A vile idea they begot, turned glum and gunned him down.

The word begot does not start with g, but since the primary stress is on the second syllable –get, it is as good as if it started with g and thus can be used to form alliterative patterns with other words. Other examples of consonants in syllables that are accented as if they are at the beginning of the word are:

Belong, bemoan, endanger, encroach, illogical etc.

I find alliteration rather interesting (a little more interesting than rhyme actually). However, if you want to use it in your poems, I recommend you set a pattern. For example, in the one above, I ascertained that it should appear about three times in each line. You see, poetry is about deliberately arranging words in a certain order; so whether you use alliteration or rhyme or both is up to you, but it should not happen by accident. If you use rhyme, follow some kind of rhyme scheme and if you use alliteration, develop a recognizable pattern.

The bottom line? Always try to achieve that rhythm in your poem, because poetry is by definition, the art of rhythmical composition; and alliterative patterns help you achieve just that.

For now, how about composing a poem and trying out some of what you have learnt above?

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