One of the most striking devices of this poem is the use of o sounds to evoke a mood of melancholy. The first five words of the poem all contain the letter o and, in contrast to the dominant iambic rhythm of the remaining lines, these first five words, “No, no, go not to,” are all heavily stressed. As well as setting the overall mood, the stress on the first five vowels serves notice that the poem is intended to be read slowly. What is being done here is similar to what a composer does with a musical composition when he marks his score largo: The performer is advised that the piece is to be played in a slow and solemn manner.
The o sounds are so densely crowded into the first two stanzas that scarcely a line does not contain at least one. The word “nor” is used four times in the first stanza, echoed by the word “or” which is used three times in the second stanza. In one line in the first stanza, there are five o sounds: “Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl.” These sounds mimic the moans and groans of a person suffering from acute melancholy and help produce a mood of sorrow and despair.
A poet can convey feelings through the manipulation of the sounds of words just as a composer can with musical notes; modern poets, beginning notably with the French in the time of Charles Baudelaire, Prosper Mérimée, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Verlaine, experimented extensively with the use of such purely mechanical devices to create emotional effects. It is impossible to say who invented the idea, because it goes back at least as far as ancient Greece, when poets accompanied their recitations by...
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