Is there alliteration in "To An Athlete Dying Young"?
"To An Athlete Dying Young" is a poem written in 1896 by A. E. (Alfred Edward) Housman. It's well known because of its subject matter. The poem deals with the death of a person in their physical prime, which is something we don't expect to happen. But it doesn't just deal with death, it also deals with the value we place on fame, and that makes it still relevant one hundred and twenty-one years after it was written!
As you may know, alliteration is a literary technique in which the author uses the repetition of initial consonant sounds. In alliteration, the first letter of each word is the same, as in this example: Gilbert eats goofy gum. The "g" sound is repeated in this example. It's still considered alliteration if there are a few words between the words which have repeated sounds, like the word "eat" in the example above.
Alliteration should not be confused with assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds and is much trickier to write and to identify. Further, it should not be confused with consonance. Consonance is the repetition of a consonant sound anywhere in the word, as in this example: Linda is alive until later. In this example, the "l" sound is repeated, but it occurs at the beginning, middle and end of words. It's also important to note that alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds so that if there are consonant blends next to words with a single consonant, one would not consider that alliteration. Here is an example of that: Someone slipped is not alliteration because the second word contains a consonant blend.
In Housman's poem, I've identified the following examples of alliteration:
- In the first stanza, the words you and your
- In the second stanza, the words road and runners
- In the fourth stanza, the words silence and sounds
- In the fifth stanza, the words runners and reknown
- In the sixth stanza, the words so and set as well as the words low and lintel
- In the last stanza, the words garland and girl's
Let us remind ourselves that alliteration can be defined as the repetition of initial consonant sounds in a series of words that may or may not be close together. It is one way that poets create verbal music through this literary device. There are plenty of examples in this poem, such as "Townsman of a stiller town" and "Runners whome renown outran" are good examples, and the use of alliteration helps create the almost song-like feel of the poem, which enacts the slow, mournful speed of the funeral procession.
You might like to think about the way in which the poem ends with an example of alliteration:
And round that early-laureled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.
Note the alliteration in the repetition of the "g" sound in "garland" and "girls." Such examples of alliteration make the poem memorable and catchy in terms of its rhythm and sound, making it important that we read such poems out when we study them rather than just reading them in our heads on the page.