Are there any sound devices (alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, rhyme, rhythm) in this poem and what is their effect?  Smalltown Dance by Judith Wright. Two women find the square-root of a...

Are there any sound devices (alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, rhyme, rhythm) in this poem and what is their effect? 

Smalltown Dance by Judith Wright.

Two women find the square-root of a sheet.
That is an ancient dance:
arms wide: together: again: two forward steps: hands meet
your partner's once and twice.

[Now that you have an answer, the majority of the poem was deleted in respect of Wright's active copyright. Staff]


Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the moment, what you need most is to find out how to identify sound devices. A sound device is a class of literary device that is in the category of literary technique; this means it is something a poet (or prose writer) may or may not choose to employ. Sound devices create an effect in poetry (or prose) because of what they add to the musicality, the sound, of the work, and sound, as Spenser and Frost prove, adds to the meaning of a work, especially a poetic work. Some common sound devices are alliteration, assonance, consonance, rhyme, and rhythm (metrical pattern).

  • Alliteration: This is the repetition of a sound--usually a consonant--at the beginnings of words that are next to or nearby each other (i.e., proximal words); e.g., poems put poetic points in proper poetic patterns.
  • Assonance: This occurs within words and is the repetition of the same vowel sound in proximal (nearby) words; it's also called an internal or a vowel rhyme; e.g., date, place, fame.
  • Consonance: This is opposite of alliteration and is the repetition of consonants at the ends of proximal words; e.g., date, fate, late, mate and cram, scram, Pam.
  • Rhyme: This is the repetition of sounds in associated words in different lines--or--in the same lines. There are many kinds of rhyme such as end rhyme, internal rhyme, near or slant rhyme, masculine rhyme and feminine rhyme, to name but a few; e.g., "Jack and Jill / Went up the hill" where Jill - hill repeat /-ill/ thus rhyme.
  • Rhythm: In poetry, this is the overall effect of the repetitive metrical characteristics of a poem (in prose, rhythm is not repetitive and is called cadence) and is determined by the rise and fall of accent in metrical feet (non-metrical free verse has a rhythm though perhaps more difficult to identify); e.g., in a toy' / boat the boys' / went a-long' with a rhythm of fall fall rise / fall fall rise / fall fall rise, with rise and fall called arsis (upward beat with stress) and thesis (downward stroke with no stress).

Now that you know what some major sound devices are, you should be able to find all you need. Let's take a couple of examples to get you started.

  1. alliteration: sheets ... / sometimes struggle ... / ... symbolise / something; produces the effect of struggle to go, to escape, like the wheels of a locomotive starting up the stopping; wallowing white dreams down ("wallowing" is also onomatopoeia, the sound of a word suggesting meaning).
  2. assonance: That is an ancient dance; the open vowel produces the effect of the opening in-and-out feeling of the dance.
  3. consonance: square-root of a sheet; produces the effect of a biting first line foreshadowing the biting finish to a sweet reminiscence.
  4. rhyme: imperfect internal rhyme: expanse / reduces; produces the effect of air being expelled in the folding process to allow for "neat compression." Glossary of Rhyme, Alberto Rios, Arizona State University.
  5. rhythm: the rise and fall, the arsis and thesis, are in a basic iambic rhythmic pattern (a duple rhythm of fall-rise, da DA) with masculine arsis (stressed) line ends; e.g.:

the scale of pos-si-bil-i-ty,
the limit of op-por-tun-i-ty,
the fence,
how lit-tle chance
there is of get-ting out. The sheets that tug.

This rhythm produces the effect of tension (tension in contradiction and constriction) within the "ancient dance"; within the flapping or wallowing sheets (for girls, they flap; for women, they wallow); within the possibility of "Run, run" to "unobstructed waiting green" "before you're seen."

durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The use of sound devices assists the reader in understanding the pace and flow of the poem.

The rhyme in the first verse ( "sheet,") helps to create a mental picture of a perfectly folded sheet,where almost a ritual is performed in the operation of folding and it is like a dance. The three words(as above) are actually a synopsis of the ritual itself. It is the punctuation that provides the rhythm in the first verse as "arms wide: together: again: two forward steps: hands meet." The reader can visualise these precise movements. To confirm the act, alliteration is used - "smallest space a sheet ...on a ... shelf."

The second verse has a playfulness to it which contrasts with the strict actions of the first and the rhyme ("white...sight"..."green...seen"), alliteration (for example, "walls...white...",..."clean corridors") and onomatopoeia ("flapping") provide the flow. The sheets take on a persona as the pace picks up.

There is a different tone in the third verse as assonance is more prominent with "possibility" and "opportunity" and the seriousness of the situation should not be overlooked. The " sheets..sometimes  ..struggle" and " might symbolise... where danger lies" ...  (alliteration and rhyme) something more to the  reader who should take care.  

There is a sadness, a missed opportunity or perhaps a safer environment away from the "impossible world" in the last verse as the alliteration in the first two lines  (the "d" and the "w") adds to the rhythmic "dance." The finality of "close the cupboard" ensures that the message is understood.