Consonance in Literature: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 What Is Consonance?
  • 1:04 Consonance in Poetry
  • 2:49 Other Examples
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

This lesson looks at how the literary devices of rhyme and near rhyme affect poetry. Specifically, consonance, a type of near rhyme, is explained with examples to illustrate the concepts.

What is Consonance?

Have you ever tried to write a poem following a certain rhyme scheme or pattern? Many students find it difficult to figure out rhyming words that will not only fit a pattern but make sense logically. Many poets have this same problem as well.

Rhyme is the repetition of the same sounds in multiple words. However, there are two kinds of rhyme. The first is the one you are probably most familiar with, exact rhyme. Exact rhyme repeats the same exact vowel sound followed by the same consonant sounds. The second type is called near rhyme, in which the repeated sounds are similar but not exactly the same.

One of the most popular types of near rhyme is consonance. Consonance is a literary device that occurs when two words have the same consonant sound following different vowel sounds. For example, the words same and home have the same 'm' sound, but the vowel sounds before it are different. The first is a long 'a' and the second a long 'o.'

Consonance in Poetry

Poets often use near rhyme when they find it difficult to maintain a sound pattern of exact rhyme or if they want more variety. Near rhyme, and in turn, consonance, can allow for many more choices in sound to create whatever effect the poet desires.

Look at these two pairs of words: 'dog'...'bog' and 'dog'...'bug.' Do you see the difference? The first pair shows exact rhyme where the second shows consonance. In 'dog'...'bug,' the 'g' sound is repeated, but the vowel before that sound is different. A poet using consonance can maintain a pattern of consonant sounds without having to limit himself to words with exact rhyme.

In addition to creating sound effects in poetry, repetition using consonance can help a writer stress specific ideas and themes. Read this excerpt from the poem 'Arms and the Boy' by Wilfred Owen:

Let the boy try along this bayonet blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

From this first stanza of Owen's poem, you should be able to identify the consonance. Look at the last word of each line: 'blade'...'blood' and 'flash'...'flesh.' These are not exact rhymes, since the vowel sounds are different. But in keeping the same consonant sounds, Owen is able to stress his point. This poem is about an inexperienced soldier who is young and not hardened enough for war. Owen uses the repetition of the sounds in 'blade,' 'blood,' 'flash,' 'flesh' to stress the cold-heartedness of war and point out how the boy is not ready for it yet.

Other Examples of Consonance

There are many poets who, similar to Wilfred Owen, choose to use consonance instead of exact rhyme for varying purposes. Look at the first three lines of this poem titled 'The Acrobats' by Shel Silverstein.

I'll swing by my ankles.
She'll cling to your knees.
As you hang by your nose,
From a high-up trapeze.
But just one thing, please,
As we float through the breeze,
Don't sneeze.

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