Explain how consonance and assonance are used to deliver the meaning of the poem "My Papa's Waltz".

Expert Answers
missy575 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Consonance is the repetition of final consonant sounds in words. In "My Papa's Waltz", this quite simply occurs as part of the rhyme scheme with many consonants rhyming every other line: breath/death, shelf/itself, knuckle/buckle, head/bed, dirt/shirt. To consider on a deeper level how the consonance contributes to meaning, consider that the end of lines actually suggest a pause to the reader. Thus, the reader allows that last word's meaning to linger unconsciously. Considering some of these words, their meanings are the most significant. Breath and death are opposites, and certainly suggest the theme of life or death. Knuckle and buckle suggest violence, a sometimes misinterpreted conclusion to which students jump. Dirt and shirt also work together thematically as they suggest the life of a working man who wants to just come home and relax celebrating the end of another work day.

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. It does not reveal itself as easily. For example, in lines 14-15, the sound of the short a vowel is repeated giving stress to a specific set of words:

With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed.
Each of these words contributes meaning to the severity of the dance between the child and parent. It was an exchange that took the man from work, to an expression of love, to the responsibility of putting the child to bed.
Earlier in lines 7-8 the 'ou' or 'ow' sound is repeated giving emphasis to the mother's expression on her face:
My mother’s countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
In fact the face actually lengthens when making these vowel sounds. There is an expression about a long face being a sad face, and that is exactly what is occuring in these circumstances.  


Read the study guide:
My Papa's Waltz

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question