Lesson 13: Sound and Rhythm in Poetry

Musicality of Poems

Poems have a musicality to them. They are meant to be read aloud to hear the sound, the rhythm, and sometimes the rhyme. How do poets create sound and rhythm in their poems? Through several literary devices.


Assonance is the repetition of the same vowel sound in words near each other.


Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in words near each other


Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words near each other.


Onomatopoeia means a word resembles the meaning sound it represents.


Rhyme requires two or more words that repeat the same sounds.. They are often spelled in a similar way, but they don’t have to be spelled in similar ways. Rhyme can occur at the end of a line, called end rhyme, or it can occur in the middle of the line, called internal rhyme.


Rhythm, of course, is the beat–the stressed syllables in a poem. Poets have a variety of possibilities for building that rhythm and ending lines.


Meter is the countable beat that a poet or reader can count. The rhythm will have equal intervals. Count the beat in William Blake’s poem “The Lamb.”

The Lamb
Author: William Blake

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life & bid thee feed
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, wooly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is callèd by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, & he is mild;
He became a little child.
I a child, & thou a lamb,
We are callèd by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Also, look for alliteration, assonance, consonance, and end-rhyme.


Caesuras are a break, pause, or interruption in the line.

End-Stopped Line

An end-stopped line occurs like natural speech; it ends at the end of a line.


Enjambment, the opposite of the end-stopped line, does not pause at the end of a line. It continues on without a pause into the next line. For example, poets may break between the subject and a verb, an article and a noun, or between a helping verb and an action verb. In the poem “Endymion,” John Keats uses enjambment. Read this excerpt–the first five lines:

Author: John Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.