What sounds effects are used in Boey Kim Cheng's poem "Report to Wordsworth" and how do they add to the meaning?

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choucksolace | College Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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In "Report to Wordsworth," Boey Kim Cheng uses rhyme, iambic pentameter, alliteration, assonance, and consonance. All of these sound effects create an additional layer of meaning in the poem, draw connections between words and ideas, and create a more evocative reading experience.

The poem is a Shakespearean sonnet, a 14-line poem with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Some of the rhymes are hard rhymes, such as "you" and "few" (lines 1 and 3), while other rhymes are soft rhymes, meaning that the words do not rhyme exactly but have similiar sounding endings. Examples include "smog" and "clock" (lines 2 and 4) and "waste" and dazed" (lines 6 and 8).

The use of hard rhymes and a traditional form creates a connection to the verse of William Wordsworth, to whom the poem is addressed. However, the inclusion of soft rhymes more closely mimics natural patterns of speech, giving the poem a more modern feel.

The meter of a Shakespearian sonnet is iambic pentameter, ten syllable lines composed of five pairs of syllables in which the first syllable is unstressed and the second is stressed. An example would be "You SHOULD be HERE," (line 1). The meter creates a musical cadence that encourages the reader to follow along. However, the poem also breaks the meter at specific points, such as "NATure has NEED of YOU." Normally a word that begins with an unstressed syllable would be used here, but the initial stress of "NATure" puts added emphasis on the theme of the poem, that Nature is being destroyed by pollution. 

Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds, a technique commonly used to excess in tongue twisters. Examples from the poem include the "sm" repetition in "smothered by the smog" (line 2) and the "p" repetition in "Poetry and piety" (line 11). Alliteration helps the reader form connections between words. We know that the smog is detrimental to the environment because it has a smothering effect. We recognize that poetry is a force of good in society because it is equated with piety, that is, religious devotion.

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds, while consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds within words rather than at the beginning or end. In the line "Nature's mighty heart is lying still" (line 12). The "ur" sound in "nature" is similiar to the "ar" sound in "heart," and example of "r" consonances. Assonance occurs when the the long "I" sound in "mighty" repeats in "lying" and the short "i" in "lying" repeats in "still."

The repetition of these sounds draws connections between Nature and her heart, which was once mighty but now lies still. Low sounds such as "ur" and "ar" evoke deep emotion, while the alternating sounds of short and low "I" sounds builds energy in the line.