Assonance is a resemblance in the sounds of words/syllables either between their vowels (e.g., meat, bean) or between their consonants (e.g., keep, cape). However, assonance between consonants is generally called consonance in American usage. The two types are often combined, as between the words six and switch, in which the vowels are identical, and the consonants are similar but not completely identical. If there is repetition of the same vowel or some similar vowels in literary work, especially in stressed syllables, this may be termed vowel harmony.
A special case of assonance is rhyme, in which the endings of words (generally beginning with the vowel sound of the last stressed syllable) are identical—as in fog and dog or history and mystery. Vocalic assonance is an important element in verse. Assonance occurs more often in verse than in prose; it is used in English-language poetry and is particularly important in Old French, Spanish, and the Celtic languages.
English poetry is rich with examples of assonance:
That solitude which suits abstruser musings
on a proud round cloud in white high night— E. E. Cummings, if a cheerfulest Elephantangelchild should sit
His tender heir might bear his memory
It also occurs in prose:
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.
The Willow-Wren was twittering his thin little song, hidden himself in the dark selvedge of the river bank.
Hip hop relies on assonance:
Some vodka that'll jumpstart my heart quicker than a shock when I get shocked at the hospital by the doctor when I'm not cooperating when I'm rocking the table when he's operating...
Dead in the middle of little Italy little did we know that we riddled some middleman who didn't do diddly.— Big Pun, "Twinz"
It is also heard in other forms of popular music:
I must confess that in my quest I felt depressed and restless— Thin Lizzy, "With Love"
Dot my I's with eyebrow pencils, close my eyelids, hide my eyes. I'll be idle in my ideals. Think of nothing else but I— Keaton Henson, "Small Hands"
Assonance is common in proverbs:
The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
The early bird catches the worm.
This poetic device can be found in the first line of Homer's Iliad: Mênin áeide, theá, Pēlēïádeō Akhilêos (Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος). Another example is Dies irae (probably by Thomas of Celano):
- Dies iræ, dies illa
- Solvet sæclum in favilla,
- Teste David cum Sibylla.
- così l’animo mio, ch’ancor fuggiva,
- si volse a retro a rimirar lo passo
- che non lasciò già mai persona viva.
In the following strophe from Hart Crane's "To Brooklyn Bridge" there is the vowel [i] in many stressed syllables.
- How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
- The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
- Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
- Over the chained bay waters Liberty—
- Giunto a quel passo il giovinetto Alcide,
- che fa capo al camin di nostra vita,
- trovò dubbio e sospeso infra due guide
- una via, che’ due strade era partita.
- Facile e piana la sinistra ei vide,
- di delizie e piacer tutta fiorita;
- l’altra vestìa l’ispide balze alpine
- di duri sassi e di pungenti spine.
This is ottava rima (abababcc), a very popular form in Renaissance, used in the first place in long epic poems.
- As armas e os barões assinalados,
- Que da ocidental praia Lusitana,
- Por mares nunca de antes navegados,
- Passaram ainda além da Taprobana,
- Em perigos e guerras esforçados,
- Mais do que prometia a força humana,
- E entre gente remota edificaram
- Novo Reino, que tanto sublimaram;
- Chambers 21st Century Dictionary (1996).
- Merriam-Webster consonance.
- Assonance at Enciclopaedia Britannica
- Khurana, Ajeet "Assonance and Consonance" Outstanding Writing
- Hart Crane, from "The Bridge: To Brooklyn Bridge" at Poetry Foundation.
- Giambattista Marino, Adone, Canto II, stanza 1 (in Italian).
- Ottava rima at Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Ottava rima at Poetry Foundation.
- Luís Vaz de Camões, Os Lusíadas, Canto Primeiro, stanza 1 (in Portuguese).
- Roy Lewis, On Reading French Verse. A Study of Poetic Form, Oxford 1982, pp. 70–99, 149–190.
- Wiktor J. Darasz, Harmonia wokaliczna w poezji Vladimíra Holana, Almanach Czeski, 2006 (in Polish).
- Wiktor Jarosław Darasz, Mały przewodnik po wierszu polskim, Kraków 2003, pp. 179–185 (in Polish).
- Kazimierz Wóycicki, Forma dźwiękowa prozy polskiej i wiersza polskiego, Warszawa 1960 (in Polish).
- Roman Jakobson, Jennifer Rowsell, Kate Pahl (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies, p. 427.
- Jan Mukařovský, John Odmark, Language, Literature and Meaning, p. 27.