What is Assonance?
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds to create internal rhyming within phrases or sentences, and it, along with alliteration and consonance, is one of the building blocks of verse. For example, in the phrase “Do you like blue?”, the /u:/ is repeated within the sentence and is assonant.
Assonance is more common in verse than in prose. It is used in (mostly modern) English-language poetry, and it is especially important in Old French, Spanish, and Celtic languages.
The eponymous student of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita described it as “getting the rhyme wrong”.
1. The silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain — Edgar Allan Poe, “The Raven”
2. And murmuring of innumerable bees — Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Princess VII.203
3. The crumbling thunder of seas — Robert Louis Stevenson
4. That solitude which suits abstruser — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Frost
musings at Midnight”
5. The scurrying furred small friars squeal in the dowse — Dylan Thomas
6. Dead in the middle of little Italy, little did we know that we riddled two middlemen who didn’t do diddily. — Big Pun, “Twinz”
7. It’s hot and it’s monotonous — Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George, It’s Hot Up Here
8. Tundi tur unda — Catullus 11
9. On a proud round cloud in white high — E.E.Cummings, if a Cheer Rules night Elephant Angel Child Should Sit
10. I’ve never seen so many Dominican women with cinnamon tans — Will Smith, “Miami”
11. I bomb atomically-Socrates’ philosophies — Inspectah Deck, from the and hypotheses can’t define how I be droppin’ these mockeries Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph”
12. Up in the arroyo a rare owl’s nest I did spy, so I loaded up my shotgun and watched owl feathers fly — Jon Wayne, Texas Assonance
13. Some kids who played games about — C.S. Lewis, “The Voyage of the Narnia got gradually balmier and balmier Dawn Treader
14. And the moon rose over an open field — Paul Simon, America
15. Yo, I’m a hot and bothered astronaut — Earl Sweatshirt of OFWGKTA
Errantry by J. R. R. Tolkien is a poem with three sets of trisyllabic assonances in each set of four lines. Assonance can also be used to create proverbs, which are a type of short poetry. Note the use of a single vowel throughout the following proverb in the Oromo language of Ethiopia, an extreme form of assonance:
• kan mana baala, alaa gaala (“A leaf at home, but a camel elsewhere”; somebody who has a big reputation among those who do not know him well.)
In modern rap, stressed assonance is frequently used as a rhythmic device. Public Enemy’s ‘Do not Believe The Hype’ is an example: “Their pens and pads I snatch ’cause I have had it/I am not an addict, fiending for static/I see their tape recorder and I grab it/No, you can not have it back, silly rabbit.”
Assonance differs from RHYME in that RHYME is a similarity of vowel and consonant. “Lake” and “fake” demonstrate RHYME; “lake” and “fate” assonance.
Assonance is a common substitution for END-RHYME in the popular ballad, as in these lines from “The Twa Corbies”:
In behint yon auld fail dyke,
I wot there lies a new-slain Knight.
Such substitution of assonance for END-RHYME is also characteristic of Emily Dickinson’s verse and is used extensively by many contemporary poets.