Alliteration In The Raven

Find examples of Alliteration in each stanza? what is the action of Alliteration in the poem?

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Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sound in words that are near one another.  It is important to remember that it is the sound, not the spelling, that is important.  So, when you are trying to identify alliteration, one way to go about it is to read the lines aloud slowly, exaggerating the first sound in each word.  Listen for any repetition of sounds and make note of them.

In the third stanza, the first two lines read, "And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain / Thrilled me -- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before."  There is alliteration of the "s" sound that begins silken and sad.  There is also alliteration of the "f" sound that begins filled, fantastic, and felt.  Both the "s" and the "f" sound are made by blowing air between the lips and teeth, and because of this they both sound sort of windy and elusive.  Given that the lines are describing the blowing of the curtains and the effect their rustling has on the narrator, it makes sense that the alliteration in these lines would echo both the blowing of the wind as well as the elusiveness and strangeness of the feelings provoked in the narrator.

In the fifth stanza, the first two lines read, "Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, / Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before."  There is quite a bit of alliteration in these two lines with the "d" sound.  The repeated "d" sound in the first three words of the second line sounds especially hard, one right after the other.  In this way, Poe seems to draw extra attention to these words.

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"The Raven," by Edgar Allan Poe, consists of 18 stanzas.  Each stanza contains numerous examples of alliteration; that is, of words in close proximity that begin with the same consonant sound.

I will give some examples from the first few stanzas; after that, you should find it quite easy to find more examples on your own.

Stanza 1: once (pronounce "wuns"), weak, weary

               nodded,nearly, napping

Stanza 2: surcease of sorrow

               rare and radiant

Stanza 3: filled, fantastic, felt

               still, stood

What is the "action," or purpose, of all this alliteration?  Poets use alliteration for a variety of reasons. 

Sometimes, they just enjoy the sound. 

Other times, alliteration serves to focus the reader's attention on a particular phrase.  For example, in the third line of "The Raven," Poe may have wanted to stress the idea that he had been falling asleep before the raven knocked on his door; thus, he used alliteration:

While I nodded, nearly napping...


Occasionally a poet may use alliteration to create an onomatopoetic effect--that is, so the words will sound like the idea or action that they represent.  In a translation of Dante's "Inferno," there is a line that reads:

I saw it there, but I saw nothing in it, except the rising of the boiling bubbles.

The repetition of the "b" sound in "boiling bubbles" sounds a little bit like actual boiling water (see link below).


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