illustration of the Ancient Mariner in the ocean with an albatross tied around his neck

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Does this excerpt from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" contain alliteration?

"The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
the furrow followed free;
We were the first that ever burst
into that silent sea"

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This passage from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is an excellent example of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's skillful use of sound devices. The lines exhibit the following poetic devices:

Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds in words in close proximity. In the twenty-three-word excerpt provided in this question, the initial "f" sound is used seven times: fair, foam, flew, furrow, followed, free, and first. Additionally, "silent" and "sea" are alliterative, as are "breeze," "blew," and "burst." Alliteration is a lyrical technique that not only sounds pleasant but also builds cohesion in a passage.

Assonance is similar to alliteration, but it is the repetition of internal vowel sounds. It has a similar effect, increasing the lyrical quality of the text while binding it together. In the excerpt, Coleridge repeats the "ur" vowel sound four times: furrow, were, first, burst. The long "o" sound repeats in the words "foam," "furrow," and "followed."

Rhyme is a sound device that uses assonance or combines assonance and consonance, the repetition of end consonant sounds. Poems often use end rhyme⁠—the rhyming of words at the end of lines. Here Coleridge adds internal rhyme, where a word in the middle of a line rhymes with a word at the end of the line. In the first line of the excerpt, "blew" and "flew" rhyme because they both end with the same vowel sound, /oo/. The third line contains the rhymes "first" and "burst"; the words have the same internal vowel sound and the same final consonant sound, /st/. Finally, lines two and four rhyme, both ending in the long /e/ sound: free, sea.

This stanza is made particularly memorable not simply because of the alliteration, although that is a prominent sound device in the excerpt. The melding of multiple sound devices within a single sentence makes a powerful impact.

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Alliteration is a literary device in which an unspecified number of words that have the same first consonant sound occur close together. Some definitions state that the alliteration has to happen within a line of poetry, but that is misleading because it makes it seem like alliteration couldn't be used in prose.

The stanza provided in the question is from Part II of the poem. This particular stanza gets frequently used as an example to teach students about alliteration because it so nicely uses alliteration throughout most of the stanza. The first line has a repetition of the "b" sound and the "f" sound when it says the "breeze blew" and uses "fair," "foam," and "flew."

Line two has three of the four words starting with the "f" sound, and line four has the wonderful "s" sound with "silent sea."

I would like to point out that while this particular stanza contains great alliteration, the stylistic device is used throughout the poem. The following stanza makes usage of "d" sounds and once again repeats the "s" in "the silence of the sea!"

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
'Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
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Yes, there is a good deal of alliteration in this passage from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Alliteration means to use the same consonant at the beginning of a word more than once in a poetic line. Here the letter "f" is used repeatedly: fair, foam, flew, furrow, followed, free and first. Coleridge also uses the letter "b:" "breeze," "blew" and "burst," and the letter "s:" "silent" and "sea." The motion of the "b" and "f" words, such as flew, blew and burst, contrasts with the stillness of the "s" words. 

Coleridge was trying to capture the flavor of a ballad from an earlier time in this fanciful tale of the supernatural. Medieval poets often relied on alliteration, so Coleridge is claiming an identity with them in this poem. The alliteration also underscores the excitement of the sailors at being the first humans ever to enter that sea. 

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